Business

Gazette business panel urges active listening for solid workplace culture

Audience members listen during The Gazette Business Breakfast panel at the Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Audience members listen during The Gazette Business Breakfast panel at the Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The term “workplace culture” transcends office perks such as communal candy bowls and foosball tables. And there’s also a difference between posting a company mission on the wall and living it as part of day-to-day behavior, a panel of Corridor business professionals said Thursday morning.

An audience of 65 listened in and asked questions on workplace culture among Corridor businesses at the third of this year’s Gazette Business Breakfasts, at the Geonetric building in the New Bohemia District.

Stacie Osako, human resources consultant with Osako Consulting, said companies might get positive attention from benefits like unlimited paid time off or equal paternal and maternal leave allowances, but they also bring a return on investment.

“You do it because you want people to stay and you want your top performers to be really happy, but you also start recruiting,” she said. “It’s those stories in the community that are really powerful ... as people start talking about ‘look at what my company is doing’ and the pride that they have with that.”

Supervisors at different West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee stores take varying approaches in recognizing employees who receive positive feedback from customers, said Kristy Staker, community relations coordinator for the retailer. For example, at one store, managers will mail those employees handwritten notes with gift cards.

“They don’t just write them an email, they don’t just hand them a card in the store because that’s the easy way,” Staker said. “We believe that the return on that investment is critical to our retention.”

With regard to negative workplace culture, though larger companies can mask issues for a time, “water-cooler conversation” among employees will eventually draw attention — and potentially to the detriment of the business’ brand within the community — said Anthony Arrington, managing partner at Top RANK.

“In a community like this, particularly smaller communities, rumors spread, conversations spread,” he said. “There are so many ways that a company can become trash in terms of their reputation because of their culture. ... I think that’s why it’s important that you pay attention to every single employee in your organization because you don’t know what your employees are saying and doing behind your back.”

When it comes to identifying areas for improvement, “active listening and radical candor” are key, added Aaron Horn, chief operating officer with the New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative.

And, Horn said, if a company notices declining scores in parts of its employee survey, it’s an indicator work needs to be done.

“The whole active listening thing is, actually ask them, listen to the feedback and, where you can, implement the changes,” Horn said.

And though companies always should seek to improve their workplace culture, they should avoid basing hiring decisions on whom they think will prove a good “fit” for that culture, said Angela Weekley, community inclusion manager at Veridian Credit Union. Rather, she said, the businesses should aim to hire a diverse array of candidates.

“I’m able to serve my members better if we’re not all the same, if we’re not all cookie-cutter and we don’t all fit within this culture, but we’re meeting our mission by making sure we have different flavors of cookies,” Weekley said.

NewBoCo was a community partner with The Gazette in the Business Breakfast.

The Gazette’s next business networking events will be its third-annual Iowa Ideas Conference Oct. 3 and 4 in downtown Cedar Rapids and its fifth-annual Business Awards banquet on Oct. 29 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, also in Cedar Rapids.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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