According to Deloitte, employee engagement and culture are now considered as foundational business issues instead of a mere problem for the HR department. Which one comes first? Great company culture? Or high employee engagement? In this article I will be discussing how culture has driven the engagement level in one of the teams I’ve led, and the 5 key factors that helped me build that culture.

My fondest memory of my corporate days was when I had the opportunity to build and lead an investor relations team whose role is to make outbound calls to existing clients to rekindle relationships with them and provide portfolio update information. I remember going for an overseas trip for the first time since I set up the team and I was slightly worried because I was going to be away for 3 weeks. To my pleasant surprise, when I checked their call logs, the numbers went up. These results were not even from one or two people from the team, everyone performed. I reflected on what had contributed to that. On hindsight, it was Culture.

According to Harvard Business Review, it is culture that guides discretionary behavior. Culture steers an employees’ decisions towards work, especially when the leader is not around.

On one of my recent coaching sessions, an HR consultant who’s been in the industry for more than 20 years shared a concrete example of the importance of culture. He shared his encounter with a performing employee, whom despite being offered an additional pay, still chose to leave. The departing employee revealed that the reason he’s so adamant about leaving and joining the other company was because he has been following that company on Facebook and he saw how the team in the company was always doing things together and having a great time. In short, he liked their culture. For that, he decided to forego the additional dollars for an opportunity to be part of that team culture.

So why is Culture important? A recent study by Deloitte ranks culture as one of the top business challenges that companies are facing around the world today. It mentioned that companies who offered a unique culture, engaging environment and meaningful work are attracting top talents compared to other companies who lacks these qualities.

There are probably a hundred practices that we can adapt to create a unique and meaningful culture in our team. Here’s the top 5 culture transforming practices that I swear by:

1. Define the Culture

How clear are we about the culture that we want in our team? I started thinking about this before I had my first interview with a potential team member. I wanted a fun, engaging, proactive, and mutually supportive team. To ensure I have team members who fit this culture, I started at the hiring process. I communicated clearly to every applicant on what my ideal culture would be when they are on board and what is ultimately expected from them. I strived to paint the picture right from the beginning and was able to filter out employees who were not suitable or potentially will not be able to jive with the team.

2. Constant Reinforcement

Another important factor was about making conscious effort to constantly reinforce the culture that you want your team to have. Building a great team culture is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight and it requires continuous effort. In the midst of client meetings and management reports and my team’s intensive client call campaigns, we made sure we made time for coaching sessions. Coaching sessions allowed my team to assess their performance and identify the areas that needed improvements. Group sessions were popular as well as everyone gets to share their best practices and sometimes, even mistakes (which we eventually just laugh the heck out of). You’ll be surprised how your team will enjoy and appreciate the culture of open communication and constant feedback.

3. Build emotional connection

Aside from an engaging and proactive team, the culture that I envisioned is for my team members to have a sense of purpose and belonging. I had to ensure they knew how important their roles were; to understand why they were chosen to be part of the team, how their skills would contribute to the company’s success, and how each member can benefit each other’s growth. Aside from professional experience and skills, I took the time to know each of my member’s family backgrounds, their interests, their goals in life as well as their pet peeves. Knowing what inspired my team made it easier for me to strategize ways to “activate” them.

4. Allow Excellence Through Individual Strengths

As culturally diverse as my team was (we had five different nationalities within the team), so were their skills and talents. My team consisted of professionals from various industries – sales, marketing, finance, customer service, etc.  Having a diversified team can be tricky as one person may overpower another or one may feel inferior towards the other. Believe it or not, this did not happen in this team. Once the team felt aligned on their purpose, I assigned tasks and delegated roles within the team based on individual’s strengths and allowed them to play small roles that contributed to the overall success of the team.

For example, I had a team member who is proficient with Microsoft Excel, so I assigned Excel-related projects to her. A member who was good with numbers, I assigned statistical related projects. The person who was into good food or what was new in Singapore, I appointed as the event organizer for team hangouts.

This practice encouraged my team to excel through their strengths without having to feel pressure. Learning was fun for them as they were comfortable performing their tasks. One goal I strive for my team is to constantly strive for improvement from the time they joined, and without a doubt my team achieved that tremendously.

5. Reward and Recognition

One of the top causes for disengagement is lack of Reward & Recognition. This was a huge part of our team rituals. I ensured that we would come together for a day of “Reward and Recognition”. Each month we would go out for lunch or dinner to give recognition for all the teams’ hard work. We would celebrate someone’s birthday, commend top performing team members for the month, rejoice over achieving the team’s target or just get together enjoying food and each other’s company outside the office. We lived by our belief that “The Team that Eats Together Stays Together!”

From these five points, the business outcome was the fact that the team was doing more than what was expected of them. I received messages and emails from clients and the account managers they work with filled with compliments and inputs. From their outreach efforts we re-established many relationships with our clients and generated millions of dollars in revenue. The team was highly engaged, but it first started with a strong culture.

Are you losing your top performing team members to your competitors? Is your team missing that drive to achieve the sales target? Does your team need a culture overhaul? If you answer YES to all these questions, contact Coach Felicia for a culture strategy session!