End the tyranny of the coffee machine terrorists

How can you gear your corporate culture towards inspiring and retaining great talent? Sling out the naysayers, says eHarmony's UK country manager Ottokar Rosenberger.

by Ottokar Rosenberger
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

We know that people are the only competitive advantage we have in a knowledge based economy. And whilst we put great focus on hiring the best talent, the amount of time and energy we spend on creating an environment where that talent can flourish seems to be diminishing. Spending time on building a company ethos shouldn’t be dismissed as a ‘fluffy’ navel-gazing exercise. I believe the ‘smell of the place’ is a really vital element in keeping your team satisfied, engaged and committed. It is the best retention tool out there.

Having been educated, business-wise, in an American corporation, I firmly believe that good feeling in a company engenders a positive and productive working environment. What I call 'coffee machine terrorists' – employees who stand around the coffee machine or water cooler mouthing off about the boss or lack of pay rise – create a destructive atmosphere, stifling productivity and creativity. It’s no exaggeration to say this type of negative gossip can destroy a company and lead to an overtly political environment.

But what do I mean by ‘the feel of a place’? Ask yourself if your mission is visible, does it surround you in some way? We at eHarmony not only have pictures of our success couples on the walls as visual reminders of our mission 'to create more love in the world', we also invite them to the office to meet the team. Additionally, we have a panel of single eHarmony members who we ask for feedback on everything about the company. In a service business such as ours it’s no cliché to say the customer is king.

If you have a head office and other satellite offices, you might ask yourself if it’s really possible to have the same feel in each of these workspaces so that everyone is a part of the bigger picture. There are ways of going about this, and a simple first step is to replicate a similar look and feel, so that you should always be able to recognise a company from the inside of the building, whether you’re in London or Brazil. That might be through the chrome lettering on the walls, or the same use of space, or bright colours.

Beyond the feeling of the place, the team and its people really define the culture which requires a couple of things. First: all team members need to possess self awareness and awareness of other people’s working style, which can be vastly differing. Whether this is achieved through calibration tools like MBTI (Myers Briggs), or through a series of team meetings, it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure this is happening.

Secondly, in most organisations, the HR department has a strong part to play in spreading the word about how things should be done, but it’s also up to each individual in a team to live and breathe it. ‘Corporate culture’ isn’t just a PowerPoint presentation from the HR department. The feel, the ethos and ‘the way’ of a company needs to be felt and understood by all employees whether or not they’ve read the corporate handbook from cover to cover.

Finally, the CEO or MD must be the beacon of this culture – in most companies the ethos permeates a company from the top down but at the same time there needs to be an open doors culture of talking and collaborating that lets everyone have a voice, from the bottom up. It’s the way to get everyone engaged and involved.

The bottom line is this: spend as much time on nurturing the right culture as you do on hiring great talent, and you will build and retain a great team over time. Just keep the malcontents away from the coffee machine.

Image: BigStockPhoto

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