Company ‘culture’ is difficult to define, and is likely to have built up over many decades. Successful companies are likely to have one thing in common – an engaged work force, and this is something for ailing businesses to aspire to. Business turnaround expert Richard Close of Briggs Equipment  considers how to successfully change staff culture without alienating anyone to ensure future success.

It may be a cliché, but staff are a company’s biggest asset and the best route to customer retention and business success. As the first port of call when dealing with existing or potential customers, it is essential that they are communicating the company messages appropriately and positively as any element of negative customer service, however small, has the potential to upset clients.

It can be a very daunting task tackling change in company culture, whether you have been responsible for its success for some time, or have been brought in to turn round the fortunes of a business that is experiencing a decline in profits. I have turned round the fortunes of four loss-making companies and turned them into multi-million pound profit generators, and my primary tactic for this is to turn the existing company culture on its head.

Often, the cause of a negative company culture will be down to the staff feeling undervalued for their hard work. In most cases this is redeemable through a number of simple steps, which will not necessarily require significant financial investment.

Firstly, make sure there is a culture of open communication throughout all levels of the company. Keep staff abreast of all developments, whether good or bad, and they will begin to feel valued. This can be done in a number of different ways – if practical, it can be done directly through face to face meetings, but in most cases, it is unlikely you will have the time to speak to each member of staff individually. In this case, ensure news is filtered down and communicated appropriately though a team of fully briefed and trained line managers.

There are a number of other ways of opening communication channels, such as holding monthly company meetings to update all staff on issues, or regular road-shows if your team are not based in the same office. Involve members at all levels by encouraging them to also participate and update the rest of the team on the latest news from their department, even if it may seem less crucial than that of the management team. If you think staff are reluctant to share their opinion, set up an anonymous staff feedback campaign so they feel comfortable about speaking their mind. There may be a number of issues that cause staff to feel unmotivated that have not even occurred to you, and may be simple to change.

Maximising other communication channels available will also support this open culture, so think about developing the company blog and involving the team, introducing a team newsletter or using the popular medium of social networks.

Another vital tool in engaging staff is empowering them by affording them responsibility for their actions. Allow staff to have the freedom to make decisions and make them aware they are accountable for them. Many business owners make the mistake of taking on too much responsibility themselves, but in order for the business to move forwards, it is essential to let go and trust others, and you will see the benefit in the long term. If staff are held accountable for their decisions, they will consider them more carefully and evaluate the consequences before going ahead, rather than feeling there is someone more senior than them who is responsible.

Rewarding staff for their commitment and hard work is a logical way of turning around their attitude, although it is not necessarily through financial incentive that you will see a change. If you make staff feel in control of their own career progression through a development programme and regular reviews, coupled with lots of encouragement and support, employees will feel empowered and having influence over their own destiny. However, if you are in a position to reward staff financially, make sure this is in line with profits, and represented fairly across the businesses.

Or if you have the option, perhaps reward instead with shares in the business, which will not have an immediate impact on your bottom line, and will encourage loyalty and longevity, as staff are more likely to commit to the long term.

There are other affordable ways for rewarding hard work such as holding a family social day at the office or instigating an internal award scheme, perhaps awarding an ‘employee of the month’ based on team votes. External award programmes for your industry or business function are also a great way of boosting morale, so work with your HR and marketing teams to identify the most relevant and worthwhile.

Remember that culture change takes time and that results won’t be seen immediately. It is likely that there will be some casualties along the way, and some members of the team that are simply not open to change, but by affording staff responsibility, accountability and rewarding them appropriately through their work, you will see a change in attitude.

Customers can recognise an unhappy workforce a mile off, and with a more engaged, satisfied team, the culture will be projected externally, and in the long run, will have a positive impact on the bottom line.