Communication: The Foundation Of Great Company Culture

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When it comes to building an organization where people love to work, open and honest conversations are the best place to start, according to Jodi Huston, chief people officer and administrator at GCOM.

How can an organization engender more loyalty and respect from their employees? By listening to them and then taking their concerns and aspirations to heart.

So says Jodi Huston, chief people officer and administrator at GCOM, a company based in Columbia, Maryland that provides digital solutions to state and local governments. GCOM must be doing something right by its employees: the company earned Energage’s 2023 Top Workplaces USA award based solely on employee feedback. Huston shares insights on how organizations can foster such positive cultures.

What steps can an organization take to be considered a “best place to work?”

The most important thing an organization can do is listen to and communicate with its employees. Managers should have open and honest conversations with their team members to get and provide feedback and guidance, and the company itself should regularly survey its employees to see how they think things are going.

For example, we recently surveyed our employees for feedback on what GCOM does well and areas for improvement. We found that people were subscribing to our core values, that they felt valued by their managers, and that they appreciated the flexible work environment we’ve committed to providing.

We also discovered people desired a little more direction on how to move forward on their career paths. As a result, we’re creating a new career framework that will create clear expectations and criteria that managers and employees can follow so that team members can progress in their careers.

Creating a culture dedicated to diversity and inclusion is also critical. D&I is often cited by current and prospective employees as one of the most important initiatives a company can undertake. We’ve heard the same from our team members. As a result, we’re actively building an environment comprised of employees from different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives, and where every employee feels valued and safe.

Creating a D&I program that’s built for now and the future isn’t easy—in fact, it’s a huge undertaking. I recommend companies take the same approach we have. Begin by connecting with outside D&I consultants and officers who can help you define what D&I means to your organization, and how to build an initiative that works for it. Start small and build a foundation that will serve you well moving forward.

Our commitment to building a great culture and listening to our employees has been hugely beneficial to our organization, though I recognize that we still have more work to do. They’re two of the reasons why we’ve been recognized as one of the best places to work by Energage, which studies top workplaces around the world. More importantly, they’ve helped us create a place where employees love to work and share our commitment to helping our customers achieve the best possible results.

How do you create a mission-focused organization?

Begin by establishing your organization’s core values. For us, that means pursuing our mission with excellence and passion. We’re a little different than many companies our solutions are designed to help people live better lives and create safer and more equitable communities.

But whether your end customer is a person who benefits from having better access to healthcare or the chance for a better job, or a company in need of a particular kind of technology, focus on building your organization around your core principles and beliefs. If you do that, your employees will feel energized, impassioned and committed.

For instance, at GCOM we believe our solutions lead to real change and community progress. An example is our Computerized Criminal History Record Management System, which allows the automatic clearing of non-violent criminal records so that offenders have opportunities to get better jobs, purchase a house, and more. Our employees feel strongly about this and our other offerings because they make a difference in people’s lives.

Not every company has this type of solution, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replicate the same kind of passion among your team members. Again, the key is communication. You need to clearly articulate to your employees why your solutions are important, what they mean to your customers, and how they make a difference. If you do that, you’ll have a better chance of engendering enthusiasm for your company and its solutions and driving better outcomes for your customers.

What are the best practices for hiring and announcing new C-Suite executives?

Balancing the timing of when to onboard a new executive versus ensuring they’re the right fit for the organization is a challenge for many companies, including ours. You can’t wait forever to hire, but you also need to ensure, to the best of your ability, that the person you select is the right fit for the position and your organization.

That takes patience from just about everyone, including hiring managers, executive teams, and others in the company who may need to assume some new roles in the interim. It also requires using employees’ networks to identify candidates they know and trust, even if those candidates may not seem like the perfect fit for the job.

In fact, some of the best hires we’ve ever made were not the most apparent fits for their jobs. But having a current employee or connection vouch for a candidate can go a long way. You might not find the right fit for the job description, but you very well may find the right fit for your company. 

Once you find that person, give people the opportunity to sit down with them one-on-one. Let them get to know each other, discuss their preferred work styles, share ideas and perspectives, and begin building their working relationship. You’ll have a head start on building an effective work dynamic before your new executive joins the team.

Finally, communicate to your team the fact that you’ve selected a new executive and what that will mean to them and your company. Do so a few weeks before the new person officially starts, either through all-hands meetings, company emails or newsletters, or all of the above. Be careful about naming the person at that time, since there’s always a chance something could happen to derail the process. But within a day or so of the start date, you should feel comfortable sharing the person’s name and background.

Of course, you’ll also want to coordinate with your PR and marketing teams to externally announce your new executive. This is particularly necessary if that new hire is for a C-suite level position, or your organization is publicly traded.

How do you integrate acquired companies in a way that makes their employees more comfortable?

Maintain constant communication with executive leadership and employees throughout the entire process. Open lines of communication between leadership can ensure that everyone is always on the same page. Communicating with employees can assure them that things are going in the right direction and give you a chance to receive feedback and questions. The more involved they are, the more comfortable they’ll feel about the acquisition and integration.

Inevitably, there’s going to be an adjustment period for employees. Suddenly, their company is changing. That means emotions will change, too. Give them some time and space to think through the changes and work with them to answer the question “What does it mean for me?” in growth, opportunity, compensation and more.

Keep listening to their concerns and questions while reinforcing the benefits of the acquisition on a personal level. Talk to them about the opportunities they’ll have to grow, thrive and work on exciting new projects. Emphasize that they will have more people to collaborate with and learn from. Above all, if you don’t have an answer to every question, that’s ok. Be honest, find the answer or identify a timeline to address it, and then follow up.

It’ll take time and a lot of work. Just remember: your employees are the people that, through their hard work and success, made the acquisition possible. Remind them of that fact and it will all be worth it.

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