by Lisa Pustelak, NWIRC, Strategic Planning & Culture Development Specialist

NWIRC has conducted dozens and dozens of company culture assessments for small- to medium-sized manufacturing businesses in northwest and northcentral PA. The labor shortage challenges led us to understand quickly how critical it is for companies to ensure they have a culture where people want to stay and to attract those they need to bring onto the team.

Working with companies ranging from 7 to over 200 employees, we’ve interviewed well over 600 individuals as part of the assessment process. Using an electronic anonymous survey, one on one employee interviews, and some additional observations within the company, we analyzed and compiled the data in a manner that guarantees confidentiality. Confidentiality is critical for employees to feel comfortable speaking freely about the organization. The result is an in-depth report of the findings along with recommendations of what’s working, what’s not working, and suggestions on how to fix what’s broken or take things to the next level.

We have learned a lot from these assessments and have enjoyed witnessing the improvements implemented to make these companies a better place to work. As with anything, not everything works and certainly things don’t change overnight. To shift a culture – it takes commitment to change, dedication to be better, and a genuine care for the people.
Every company is different, they have different strengths and opportunities, different levels of education, and of course different processes and products. However, there were several things these companies had in common:

  • They all did the assessment because they want to be better.
  • Most had an idea of their opportunities, but weren’t sure where to start with improvements.
  • Almost all of them need to hire more people.
  • All have people doing jobs of multiple roles.

The strengths varied significantly:

  • A few had strong leadership.
  • Some did a good job of recognition.
  • Most of them do a good job of treating mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Many had people that were loyal and take pride in their work.
  • The majority of people interviewed like the work they do.

Three areas for improvement came up consistently:

  1. The need for improving communication came up for 100% of the companies. In some cases, the way things are communicated is the problem, and in most cases, the lack of information shared is the issue. While some wanted information on the company itself, most of the lacking information was related to job quality or performance. They want information to do their job better! No matter how small or large a company, better communication is needed.
  2. Increasing accountability came up for nearly all of the companies assessed. For some, this was an issue before COVID, but for many COVID threw the rules out the window – “we just had to survive”, as some would say. But now it’s proving to be a challenge to get the rules back in place and enforce them. The lack of accountability has a direct impact on morale. Companies that scored low on the surveys in morale also scored low on accountability. Showing favoritism came up in several of the companies as well. There is a strong need to get back to setting clear expectations, sticking to them, and ensuring the rules are the same for everyone.
  3. Leadership needs strengthened or improved. This came at all levels of leadership, some needing more improvement than others. In most cases, the lack of leadership came from a lack of training. This is the classic situation of someone being good at a job so we promote them, but don’t teach them how to manage or lead people. We also saw some cases where children or family members have taken over the business either intentionally or situationally. They may have their own strengths, but have never really led a group of people. Additional leadership skills training was a recommendation on the report-out many times.

When we do interviews during the culture assessments, some assume we are only looking for the negatives, but that’s not the case. It is just as important to understand what’s working. If we don’t keep a focus on our strengths, they won’t remain strengths. Some of the companies we assessed had some great strengths already and others have taken great lengths to improve their culture. Some of the outcomes we’ve seen include:

  • Creating a committee, including people from all departments, to come up with ideas of how to better engage the team.
  • Investments in making the facilities better – one company paved a large parking lot. It’s amazing how many times parking lots come up as one of the needed improvements!
  • Several companies have implemented regular team meetings to help improve the communication.
  • Pay structures have also been reviewed and improved.

While these things may seem simple and insignificant to some, they were in direct response to what employees were asking for. It’s the little things that make a big impact! The culture of your company can dictate whether your people stay or whether you have a revolving door of people coming and going. Employees want to be treated well. They want to feel appreciated and valued. Leaders need to communicate clear expectations and hold everyone accountable to accomplish goals. Communication and accountability are leadership skills. Regardless of the size of the company, the culture is a direct reflection of the leadership.