‘Communication Is The Most Foundational Component Of Culture’

Walter Antezana, COO at iTech AG, talks about how creating an environment where employees have a voice is the best way to get through hard times.

For Walter Antezana, building a people-first culture is vital to the success of any organization.

The chief operating officer at iTech AG, a technology consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia, talked with StrategicCHRO360 about why that is especially true during challenging times—and how his organization has gone about achieving its mission.

What lessons have you learned throughout the process of building iTech AG’s culture?

A people-first approach that is focused on making employees feel heard, recognized and prioritized is necessary to sustain a resilient culture that flourishes during difficult times. Throughout the process of developing and maturing iTech AG’s culture, I have learned the importance of a well-established set of core values that outline this people-first approach. These core values and behaviors define employees’ work lives, so they are of the utmost importance.

To properly establish this approach and meaningful company values, I utilized the resources around me. I brought in people with a passion for and expertise in growing a culture that keeps people connected and engaged. These talented individuals led our cultural transformation and identified strong core values that help keep messaging, initiatives and priorities aligned while attracting and retaining top talent. 

A strong culture is much more than weekly happy hour events with teammates and company outings—it’s essential that organizations have a comprehensive strategy based on well-established core values that employees support. It’s also critical that leadership sets the tone by participating in cultural initiatives and traditions.

What are some examples of projects or initiatives you were a part of that helped create a positive culture at iTech AG?

iTech AG conducted a cultural transformation designed to create a culture supportive of our vision and business strategy and hybrid workplace. All iTech AG employees were engaged in this project, resulting in a cultural design aligned to their values and priorities. Gathering these critical insights from our employees enabled the team to identify agreed-upon core values.

The next step was to create unique opportunities to unite and celebrate our employees through corporate traditions that reinforce our values. For instance, two of our core values are “people first” and “pursue excellence.” We ensure our behavior corresponds to those values with our monthly coffee status tradition, a team meeting in which participants are encouraged to share both work and personal updates, and our iSee You program, a company-wide tradition to publicly recognize team members for contributions that go above-and-beyond.

Another iTech AG core value is “trust and inspire.” One program we’ve established to support this is iTech Talk, a 30-minute monthly session for team members to present an inspiring and educational conversation about topics that are of interest to the team.

It’s critical for all employees to feel invested in their work culture and for our executive team to be committed to making it great. Leaders must lead by example and communicate the value of company decisions and requirements. By empowering our leaders to be champions of their people, we have created an open environment that continuously evolves and has proven resilient even in uncertain times.

Beyond digital tools, how do you help remote iTechians feel as much a part of the team as hybrid or onsite employees?

We adopt and adapt cultural values and events to help fully remote teammates feel engaged and valued. Many of our company-wide rituals let us connect regardless of location.

This ranges from showing gratitude through personal and professional development events, allocating time for virtual parties, touching base with individuals often, sending tokens of appreciation on observances and, most importantly, ensuring our communication lines are always open.

It’s easy for organizations to overlook these small gestures of gratitude, but we all feel more seen and included when we receive them. For instance, this year we sent all remote employees a little thank you Valentine’s gift to let them know they may be distant, but they are just as integral to the team as hybrid and onsite iTechians. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

As remote work has become an accepted norm, new ways to keep remote employees engaged will continue to emerge. We constantly reassess new approaches to improve how we engage with remote iTechians and ensure they are just as visible as those working on-site.

How can leaders ensure their efforts around company culture are sustainable and leave a lasting impact?

Communication is the most foundational component of a sustainable and evolving culture, as in any relationship, personal and professional. It ensures aligned organizational values that are supported by clear leadership modeling. It also avoids decision-making based on personal values and actions.

Intentional communication and genuine conversations create a lasting impact. Leaders must ensure communication lines are always open so they can constantly improve the employee experience.

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