by Martin Hunter, Business Examiner Editor
VICTORIA, BC – Have you ever walked into a business and immediately had very positive feelings about them? If so, then you are probably sensing their corporate culture in action.
Workplace culture, also know as corporate or organizational culture, can be defined as the internal environment that effects all businesses and all levels of employees. A good workplace environment will allow a business and its employees to thrive or it can cause it to fail, with its employees fighting against the establishment, each other, and their client base.
Understanding what constitutes workplace culture is an important part of either providing a successful one, or fitting into the existing framework. Management and leadership are considered the driving force for defining and maintaining this type of successful culture.
Scott Phillips, President of StarFish Medical in Victoria, is a prime example of a business owner who recognizes the intrinsic value of initiating and maintaining a positive workplace environment. “People often come in the doors and comment on the energy of the place,” says Phillips. “There’s kind of an infectious buzz. They see teams of people working together, focused on creative problem solving. Other people are assembling or testing prototypes or focused on their computer screens and you can tell that they’re excited about what they’re doing.”
StarFish Medical is a specialty outsourced R&D and contract manufacturing company in the medical device sector. Medical device companies from around North America hire StarFish to develop and manufacture their products. Currently the company has about 50 staff members working at its office on Ardersier Rd in Victoria. Later this year they will be relocating into their new expanded headquarters a few blocks away.
The company was founded in 1999 by current owner Scott Phillips, an engineering physicist. From no employees and a few contractors in a building on Harbour Road in Victoria West, the company has grown to its present size and success. But they had their growing pains.
“It wasn’t always the way it is now,” said Phillips. “In 2006 the company had some culture and morale issues. Departments were pointing fingers at each other and the turnover rates were starting to climb. The company decided to focus on transparency, initiating a clear statement of beliefs, and focusing on better metrics.”
He adds that “things like profit sharing, open book management, clarity on goals and objectives, reporting on outcomes to all hands, open door policies, 360 reviews, clarity on core values, social committee bonuses for hitting company goals – all reinforce the culture and the values that we want.”
Phillips was willing to share the core values that he feels have made StarFish a great place to work and thrive:
1) We look deeper. We solve the right problem. We get the fundamentals right and then build from the inside out. That’s a fundamental integrity core value. We’re not about the appearance of being good; we’re about being good
2) We are open and welcome accountability. We share information with team members well and across the company. We don’t deny our shortcomings and mistakes but welcome opportunities to improve. We point out the elephant in the room.
3) We get better. All the time. We learn and systematize so we don’t make the same mistakes twice.
4) We respect people and trust their intentions. That’s not because we’re naïve idiots. It’s because we would rather get burned once in a while than live with corrosive effects of constant suspicion. The people who abuse that trust won’t last. The right people respond to being entrusted with responsibilities.
5) We cut to the chase. That means we don’t indulge in ineffective actions. We get things done. We’re efficient.
“At StarFish we work very hard to maintain bridges between the different groups,” added Phillips. “We hire people for a core values fit in addition to technical skill and experience. Then we spend a lot of time and money getting them oriented and working well.”
In a recent anonymous satisfaction survey conducted internally by StarFish, the employees ranked the culture as the #1 thing they liked best about working for the company, followed closely by the work and their peers.
One anonymous comment read “the lifestyle and environment provided makes for a stimulating workplace. Very open practices make it a great place to
learn and grow.”
Phillips offered some final insight. “You get a virtuous circle effect when you define core values and reinforce the culture of the company. People respond to being trusted and respected. Through our 360 process we emphasize peer respect. Through clarity on goals and accomplishments reporting we get alignment so people are able to make good decisions.”
The results of their successful workplace culture are reflected in a 0% voluntary turnover in the past 2 years, with all of the huge savings in recruiting, training and managing associated with that.
Initiating workplace cultural changes can be one of the most stressful actions that a company will undertake, but the final results are more than worth it. Here are some tips on how to proceed.
- Create optimism regarding the proposed culture changes and its outcomes.
- Ensure personnel on all levels recognize the need for a change.
- Be aware there will be resistance from individuals and groups.
- Establish new cultural forms such as symbols, rituals, rites and language.
- Start new people coming into the organization with the new culture only.
- Management must lead the way with the new cultural perspectives and behaviors creating confidence and a passion for change.
- Know that implementing the new culture is a process, and should occur with a planned strategy.