Get back to basics to build a strong corporate culture

In business everything is cyclical. If we spent as much time looking to the past as we did trying to forecast the future we’d gain a better appreciation for the patterns that exist.

Although the high-tech sector has been surrounded by hype and glitz since its birth, strip that away and what you’re left with is a business. Like any other business, survival is key and high-tech firms must pay attention to the business basics.

The most basic of the basics are the people. Even if you’re in the business of making the newest widget, you need the best people to make those widgets, ship those widgets, and sell those widgets if you are to meet the expectations of consumers and investors. This becomes doubly important if you don’t have widgets to sell, but rather knowledge and capabilities – commodities that are entirely dependent on the quality of your people.

So let’s assume you’ve assembled a cast of the best talent. Your work doesn’t end there. As many managers know, the greatest challenge is to hang onto that talent base. Customers in knowledge-based industries become repeat customers when you have established a level of trust. If they know your people, and are comfortable with them and their work, they will be back. If they see a different face every time they deal with you, chances are you will lose that business.

So you know you want to keep employees, but how? One successful strategy is to not attempt top-down approaches, but adopt more horizontal strategies. Social cohesion between employees can be encouraged, creating a web of workplace relationships that will tend to result in employees attaching higher values to the workplace environment.

For example, instead of the usual corporate practice of putting employees’ names on their doors, our staff offices are identified by their pictures. This personalizes their workspace and gets people interacting quicker. They’re able to attach a face and personality to a name, rather than another nametag.

Social events, such as multicultural potluck lunches held at our offices, are also part of the glue that bonds employees to each other, and to a common corporate culture, no matter what their background.

Make learning fun. Integrate “Lunch and Learns” with “Swim and Learns.” Challenge a senior manager to host a knowledge sharing session in a backyard pool. This facilitates sharing of knowledge along with cohesion building in an interactive way.

Recruiting incentives are also a great way to bring new staff by including them in the search for top talent. This not only makes recruitment easier but it also means some new hires arrive with existing attachments and loyalties to other people in the firm. Thirty-five per cent of new hires in MONTAGE come from referrals.

One last piece of advice for boosting your employees is to have them feel a sense

of ownership of the company. Provide your staff with part ownership of the company so that they’re all working towards a common goal. We operate as a private, employee-owned business and provide our employees with a team-based approach to business and personal development.

Of course, measures such as these do not take the place of the regular care and feeding of employees. Any retention plan should also include training, career mapping, and incentive schemes, but these are the bare minimum. Really establishing yourself as a workplace of choice requires creativity in the formation of a unique and engaging corporate culture.

Businesses that have survived various market conditions over the decades have all shared this pattern of success. From Ford to Wal-Mart, an innovative, strong and rewarding corporate culture has propelled them to the peak of their market sector. For once, high tech business would be wise to look backwards as well as forwards.

Lakeman is the founder and CEO of MONTAGE eIntegration, a Toronto-based eBusiness solutions provider. His company’s employee retention rate is more than 90 per cent, which is almost unheard of in the high technology industry.