How to build an employee-centric culture

The tight labor market is creating significant challenges for businesses large and small throughout Oregon and the nation. The recovery from the pandemic, while overwhelmingly positive, has created a situation where employers are often struggling to fill positions at every level.

And while competitive compensation and benefits are still key tools in every employer’s toolkit to attract and retain employees, there is a third category that is no less important for every company: creating and maintaining a work culture in which all employees feel valued, nurtured, and celebrated.

In many ways, actively creating a great workplace culture is like creating a great product or service. Yes, consumers make choices based on price, quality, and service, but they also choose to purchase a product or service because a company aligns with their values. You can pay your employees well and offer great benefits, but if your culture is lacking, you will always play catch-up when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

At Summit Bank, we’ve worked to build an environment where every employee feels like they are a recognized and valued member of a team — from the teller row to the CEO’s office. Those efforts are reflected in very low attrition rates among staff relative to industry benchmarks. We’ve also once again received recognition from Oregon Business Magazine as one of the Best Places to Work in Oregon.

Here are some ideas we’ve implemented that can be utilized by any company.

  1. Embrace teams
    Putting employees together in functional teams that have clear goals and expectations is the best way to showcase the value you place on employees. Even the most introverted employees want to feel part of something larger than themselves. This isn’t just about an organizational chart or hierarchical reporting structure. It can be an ad hoc team to try and solve a particular problem, or a standing team that exists in perpetuity, creating teams creates teammates who feel they share a common purpose.
  2. Communicate often
    Abundant communication within an organization creates transparency, transparency creates trust, and trust creates satisfied and engaged employees. At Summit Bank, we utilize frequent informational emails, regular all-employee meetings, and a rigorous one-on-one dialogue between employee and supervisor so that all our people not only know what’s going on within the bank, but also thoroughly know our mission and values. Additionally, even though we are a company of more than 100 people operating in three separate markets, we place a premium on interpersonal communication among all our leaders. Despite our size, there is not a single employee whom our CEO doesn’t know on a first-name basis. That kind of familiarity comes from having a culture that communicates effectively and often.
  3. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk
    During the beginning stages of the pandemic, we realized many of our employees – especially in management – could do their jobs remotely. However, we also knew that many frontline employees had to be in the office to serve clients. Even though many businesses were sending everyone home, we decided immediately that if frontline employees were going into the office then all of management would as well. Yes, it put a strain on our facility managers to maintain social distancing and masking, but we felt strongly that our very culture mandated that no group of employees was placed above another in terms of workplace expectations when serving clients.

    Another example? All our top managers serve on nonprofit boards and volunteer their time. As a community bank that prides itself on our employees giving back to the community, we feel strongly that such an emphasis must include absolutely everyone.
  4. Celebrate often
    Successful companies work hard and play hard. We send out employee kudos via email and recognize stellar employee work weekly. We hold twice monthly all-employee meetings where employee congratulations flow freely. We’ve also formed a Summit Spirit Team to create fun and enjoyable activities. Work takes up much of our lives, but having a place of employment that promotes fun and acknowledges good work is simply a better environment in which to spend your time.
  5. Get employee feedback – and act on it
    Culture is a lot like the human body in that it must be regularly checked and evaluated for its health. We conduct an annual survey of our employees and encourage open and honest feedback about the environment we’ve created. The results of that survey are then evaluated and, if needed based on feedback from employees, changes are made. This anonymous survey is in many ways a diagnostic tool that leadership uses to continually enhance our culture.

    Today, employees have more power and choice when it comes to where they want to work than at any time in recent years. If company leaders are not doing everything they can to create an employee-centric culture, they risk losing their greatest resource.
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