Razor Suleman knew he had a problem when he lost 40 percent of his employees in rapid succession. "I dramatically threw my keys on the desk of my second in command and tried to quit," he recalled.
That was back in 2006, before Suleman transformed what he describes as "one of the worst places to work" to one of the best.
Nothing like a mass exodus of talent to force senior leadership to confront the obvious: You can't buy cool, you can't fake happy and a company can't survive without great employees. Just ask Suleman, founder of Achievers, a Toronto, Ontario- based employee success platform.
Achievers boasts that its cloud-based software helps companies "engage, align and recognize their employees, resulting in higher retention and improved business results." Engaged employees lead to happy customers, which are the key to continued revenue growth and profits, Suleman said.
From New York City office towers to Silicon Valley garages, Suleman explained, companies are all competing for the attention of new hires, the loyalty of existing employees and the reputation of being a "cool, fun, innovative place to work."
While he concedes, "nothing says fun like free beer and foosball," he added that companies need to rely on more than happy hour to develop a positive and long-lasting culture. So what's it take to engage employees and build a successful corporate culture?
Suleman said the first step is to understand why your company exists. "Back in 2006, we were running very fast. But we didn't have a North Star, a purpose. We needed to define our mission."
Why Are We Here?
Building a successful company culture starts with understanding your mission or purpose. "Our mission is to change the way the world works," he said. "Once we understood that, we stopped doing some things and focused on doing other things that supported our mission better than anyone else."
But companies also need to have a vision — "what are we going to do and what is going to make us great?" — and a clearly defined set of values. "They have to be authentic and genuine, and truly reflect what the company represents," he said.
The next step is to communicate those values to your employees and make sure everyone is aligned with them, he added,
"Our values — including 'to care, share and be fair' — are now part of our DNA. They are integrated into our job descriptions and we rely on them during the hiring process," he said.
The Right Stuff
Suleman said the best way to retain employees is to hire people who support and reflect your corporate culture. "Hire for attitude, not aptitude," he suggested.
"That's important, because I've hired people for what they've done and let them go for who they are. I can teach skills. But I can't make someone collaborative or give them a sense of ownership."
From a low of 12 employees eight years ago, Achievers has grown to 263. More than half of them work in the company's Toronto offices. Another third work in San Francisco and the others are in scattered offices worldwide, including London.
3 Secrets of Great Culture
What defines a great company culture? Suleman claims it includes:
- Highly engaged employees aligned to the company mission. "We promote against both alignment with our values and performance," he said.
- Strong leadership. "We have an open book management style that gives our employees a sense of ownership. With the exception of salaries, all of our employees can see everything our leaders see, including revenues and cash receipts."
- An organic and authentic sense of joy and purpose. "Celebrations are great ways to reinforce values. We encourage employees to recognize their peers for living our values and driving results."
Achievers thinks engaged employees are keys to business success. "With a shared vision for success, your workforce will lead, collaborate, innovate and excel," the company boasts on its website, "And when employees succeed, that's when your business takes off."