3 steps to reimagining your firm's culture
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3 steps to reimagining your firm's culture

May 24, 2019 · 3 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

Paid time off. Affordable health care plans. Employer-sponsored retirement funds. There’s a lot the modern worker evaluates when considering where they’ll spend their 40-plus hours a week. But more and more, potential employees are looking at another variable when choosing where to work: company culture.

According to a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 70 percent of professionals said they wouldn’t work at a leading company with an unhealthy culture.

This makes sense to Rachel Montañez, a career coach, trainer and speaker who advises and writes on this exact topic. She said a company’s culture is created by the people who work there, and when staff members are stressed, there can be unexpected effects on culture.

“Stress impacts most of the skills needed to perform at work, specifically affecting mood, productivity and concentration,” Montañez said. “If the people are stressed, that will ultimately reflect on the culture.”

Are you seeing some of the subtle first signs of a weakening culture, like a lack of teamwork or engagement? Review these tips on how to recognize when culture is starting to slide and learn how to get it back on track. You may find you’re creating an environment that’s even stronger, happier and more innovative than before. Once you’re done reading, you can hear more about the importance of supporting a strong culture in this podcast.

Learn to recognize the early signs.

Teamwork is a company’s core strength, and it’s most at risk during stressful times, Montañez said. A dip in company culture can cause employees to disengage, and this makes collaboration more difficult. Without this strong connection, competition can step in to take teamwork’s place.

A lack of engagement can turn into a negative attitude, and this can spread from person to person. Disengagement also leads to a decline in work ethic. As a culture becomes more and more affected by negativity and a lack of teamwork, staff members will begin to burn out, Montañez added

So how do you improve your company’s culture? Montañez had a few thoughts on that:

  1. Put your employees first.
    People are the backbone of a company — the inner strength that makes the day-to-day work possible. When a company’s culture fades, it’s the people in the organization who feel it first. If you think your culture is slipping, have an honest dialogue with your staff members about what they’re experiencing and find out how you can address their concerns.

    Montañez suggested beginning these conversations by asking questions that get at the heart of what matters most to your employees, specifically when it comes to work-life balance. “You must understand your staff,” she said. “And it’s important to support staff with benefits that will mean the most to them.”

    For example, you may discover staff members with young children would benefit from flexible hours or remote work. “You may even want to think about creating new types of family benefits as part of your firm’s benefits package,” Montañez added.

    Reach out and ask. But do so in an authentic way and without bias, Montanez said. You may be surprised by what you find out.

  2. Focus on wellness.
    Wellness can be mental, financial, social, physical or spiritual. It can be a combination of any of these. Everyone on your staff has a unique connection to what makes them feel well, and this directly connects to their overall satisfaction at work.

    Determining what wellness means to your employees will help you implement comprehensive strategies to address their needs, Montañez said. She suggested gaining insights by observing and asking staff members about their wellness goals.

    Do your employees value healthy eating? Are they interested in supporting green initiatives? Are they hoping to improve their health by quitting smoking? Find out what they need to feel well, then determine how you can help them get there.

  3. Develop strong leaders.
    A healthy company culture comes from the top. Leaders who focus on positivity, advancement and work-life balance can slow or even stop the decline of a company’s culture by setting the stage for their staff.

    “Do some research,” Montañez said. “Look at your industry leaders for insights.” Firms undergoing a cultural downturn should work to strengthen their leaders while reviewing and creating opportunities for career mobility and innovating talent management practices, she said.

    Don’t just focus on your leadership, though. Junior staff members can benefit from leadership training too. Encourage them to take part in conferences, continuing education courses and training opportunities that hone their skills and capabilities.

    The AICPA Leadership Academy helps the next generation of CPAs build a strong ethic of leadership through an intensive four-day course. Additionally, young CPAs can explore professional development and networking opportunities at the AICPA EDGE Career Development Conference at ENGAGE in June.

No one wants to see their company culture in a downturn, but recognizing it allows you to take action and get things back on track. Being able to identify these changes means you’re keeping your finger on the pulse of your firm.

Whether your firm’s culture needs help, or you’d just like to give it a healthy boost, check out the tools in the AICPA PCPS Firm inMotion e-Toolkit. For more resources to assist your firm’s transition into a powerhouse of the accounting profession, visit the AICPA Small Firms hub.

For more information on leadership and people training, visit our Learning & Development Hub

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