Creating the culture of a ‘Best Place to Work’ company

Written on Sep 01, 2016

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA content manager

A beautiful new office, the latest technology and a casual dress policy have all been touted as ways to improve company culture and make employees more productive. But it takes more than that to build a strong culture.

Oswald Companies has been voted one of the best places to work for three consecutive years, and according to Marty Guastella, vice president of HR, this is no happy coincidence.

“It wasn’t just HR, it wasn’t just the CFO, it was really all of us working in lock step toward a series of objectives and goals,” Guastella said.

When the company was looking to revamp its culture, several years ago, Oswald started with its values – something all employees could recite by heart – and began to define them. Instead of abstract values that simply sounded nice, these values were now tied to distinctive behaviors Oswald could measure and use in their performance evaluation system, meaning everyone understood what was expected of them.

Oswald’s comprehensive approach to culture included other efforts, such as rewriting job descriptions and creating clear paths for promotability, so there was clarity about employees’ responsibilities and discussion about how they could get to the next level. The key to executing these initiatives successfully was having open, honest conversations with employees on what they wanted from the company, he said.

“There was a lot of stuff that was in place, but in the broader picture certain elements were missing,” Guastella said. “So we spent the better part of the last four years really trying to work with all of our management team to listen more carefully to what employees were communicating.”

More programs were added to improve work life balance, such as a new maternal leave policy that allows first time mothers three months of 100% paid leave. Investing in employee learning has also been a key initiative, Guastella said. Four years ago training initiatives accounted for less than one half of one percent of payroll, and today it’s pushing 2%.

They also have a recognition plan where employees can recognize each other for the work they’re doing every day, intentionally created to foster a thankful and positive atmosphere among coworkers.

“We put in these policies and systems that say we care about you, we’re listening to what you want and have to say and we’re doing everything we can to be responsive to the needs of our employees,” he said.

Guastella emphasized that the work they’ve done so far is just the tip of the iceberg, and creating and maintaining this culture is not as simple as checking off boxes on a list.

“It’s no one thing; all of this stuff added together is what drives the culture,” he said. “We’re all working together to build the business so employees feel good about coming to work every day and we’re getting somewhere and communicating positive effects.”

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