Best company culture definition

There are too many different definitions of company culture. You’ll easily find hundreds for this umbrella term and Wikipedia isn’t very helpful either. Let’s approach culture in organizations in a practical way.

What is organizational culture?

Instead of trying to define it in a comprehensive way, let’s first look at its characteristics.
Corporate culture is

  • like a common DNA, it serves as a frame of reference on how people behave
  • both the glue that holds an organization together as the compass that provides direction
  • ever-present in the sense that it is there, always (whether you manage it or not)
  • composed of observable elements: architecture, processes, corporate clothing, stories, gossip  … but also less/ not observable elements: values, underlying assumptions, unwritten rules…
  • learned or transmitted through social interaction
  • dynamic and subject to change in response to internal or external influences
  • not necessarily the same in all units, subcultures can exist

If you do prefer a more formal definition, I like the one offered by Edgar Schein of MIT’s Sloan

School of Management. In a shortened version, it reads like this:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned … considered valid and, therefore, is taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel

So culture is the guiding tenet of a company. It steers behaviour and success, just like a strategy does.

How does culture relate to values?

In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Schein divides organizational culture into three different levels.

You probably see why it is sometimes referred to as the onion model.

In this view, values are the written expressions of an organizational culture. So culture is not equal to values, but values are like beliefs that steer behaviour. Behaviours that define the unique way in which employees relate to each other, to their work and to the outside world.

So values and culture are interlinked but not the same. You could put it like this:

Values are your starting point and culture is what you end up with.

Values together with company traditions, rituals and symbols help people understand how to behave and relate. Some organisations have a set of documents that describe their company culture. It usually details: the company’s mission or vision, the core values and traditions, rituals and symbols. Call it a company culture code if you wish.

Are you interested to learn what sorts of values there are and how you can best define your own unique set? Look out for the next post in our Culture series.

Koen Schreurs
Helping HR & Management to boost company culture & engagement

    What you really need to know about team collaboration

    When did you last set your own goal aside to help reach the goal of someone else?

    It happened recently during the London Marathon – even though running, as an individual sport, is an unexpected place to display such behaviour. Take a quick look at the video, and no, you really do not need to run yourself to be moved by these images.

    The video shows how the 29-year-old Matthew Rees, barely 200 metres from the finish line, encourages a fellow runner who stands unstable on his legs, David Wyeth, and helps him over the finish line. Wyeth would never have reached the finish line without Rees.

    Rees wanted to use the sprint in the last straight line so that he would finish in less than 2 hours and 50 minutes. The moment Rees saw Wyeth collapse, he decided to forget his own competition and did everything he could to ensure that David would finish, even at the expense of his own sharp time. Rees not only abandoned his own goal to achieve the goal of another person. No, it went even further than that. In an interview for the Guardian he talked about a new goal – a common goal: to reach the finish line together.

    The pursuit of a common goal is also what characterizes a team, but that is just the point where many teams are stuck. Team members who choose to put their personal goals first do not necessarily do so out of unwillingness, but out of ignorance and lack of clarity. Teambuildings that strengthen mutual trust, increase motivation and foster a sense of responsibility can be very valuable, but if the team does not know which goal unites them, their impact will be limited.

    In short, clear and consistent communication about the common goal is indispensable for achieving strong teamwork. Such communication should not only be driven top-down, but should also happen between the team members. And perhaps more importantly: the communication has to be repeated regularly to ensure the common goal remains top of mind for all team members.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself to stay alert to the blurring of a common goal:

    • What is the common goal and is it known to everyone?
    • Does everybody know what is expected of him/her? What is his or her contribution to the team result?
    • Is it time to reclarify the team goals and what is expected of each team members?

    And for those who would consider giving priority to their own interests over common interest, I would like to conclude with the words of Matthew Rees:

    “So I did not get the time I was looking for, but I got a memorable moment and that’s more important.”

    Leen Joos

    Source: the Guardian

    6 Leadership lessons from Ethan Hunt

    ♫ Dun dun dada Dun dun dada Dun dun ♫

    Some time ago, I witnessed how Ethan Hunt, played by Hollywood phenomenon Tom Cruise, together with his team for the fifth time saved the world from destruction. I must honestly admit, I have a weakness for the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise and Rogue Nation certainly did not disappoint: lifelike action scenes, sensation, humor, as well as beautiful locations and good acting. But above all, the film series is also instructive. Starting as a novice, Ethan Hunt grew to become the natural leader of his group. His leadership is the key to success or failure. What important leadership lessons can we draw from the film franchise and implement on the work floor?

    1. Build a strong team

    There is no doubt about it, Ethan Hunt is wonderfully talented, but he does not accept any single mission on his own. The goals achieved are the result of a wonderful piece of teamwork. Each team member has his specific skill and contributes his or her bit. Just think of Benji Dunn who can hack any computer system with the click of a mouse or the fighting skills of Ilsa Faust that helps Hunt escape from The Syndicate. A leader is only as good as his team. Good leaders recognize the talent of their employees and use them as well as possible, so that everyone makes a positive contribution to the final goal.

    2. Work systematically

    In every Mission Impossible film there is an obstacle that needs to be overcome: breaking into a highly secure building, downloading a heavily guarded computer file… This does not happen in haste, but always requires extensive planning, with timing as an important factor. Every step that is taken is mapped out. A leader stands or falls with a good planning. A supervisor must organize the work in such a way that the intended results are achieved within the set time. Leaders therefore all benefit from first drawing up a thorough plan before they get started.

    3. Be flexible

    Plans, however, have the habit of changing. Every Mission Impossible film has a plot twist that jeopardizes the team. Fast anticipation is therefore a must. Leaders must always be prepared to adjust their planning where possible. He must be characterized by his flexibility. After all, a working environment is never static, but changes all the time.

    4. Radiate self-confidence

    However dire the situation, Hunt always believes in the good outcome. He remains courageous and always finds a way to overcome the obstacles. His positive attitude rubs off on his team members, who are only too willing to go the extra mile. A manager must stand by his own convictions. Leaders with self-confidence inspire their teams to get the best out of themselves. In short, managers with confidence have employees with confidence.

    5. Dare to take risks

    Ethan Hunt is not afraid to take risks to achieve his goal. Whether he jumps from a skyscraper, climbs a cliff, or dangles from a rising plane, Ethan does it all to reach his goal. Leaders must dare to take risks from time to time. Especially in a world where innovation is the basis for success. Leaders must often take decisions without enough background information. Or they end up in a situation where they must deviate from the standard procedures.

    6. Show appreciation

    As already mentioned, Hunt is extremely aware of the qualities of his team members and therefore he does not miss any chance to express his appreciation. A smile, a pat on the back, a simple thank you, a drink to celebrate the good outcome, Hunt does it all. He gives his team members the opportunity to use their talents, gives his team members wings and commands loyalty. Luther, Brandt and Benji are only too willing to put their lives at risk to help him with the mission. By giving recognition to employees for their achievements, you motivate them to achieve better work performance. Their involvement in the job will increase. Every employee longs to be noticed and appreciated by their manager.

    Jasmien Schaevers

    How to create a strong employer brand in an unsexy sector – a leading example!

    What do you do if your company is in urgent need of new talent, but finds itself in a business sector deemed “unsexy”?
    What do you do if you simply don’t have the means to meet the requests put forward in wage negotiations, yet still have to be able to attract specialised profiles in order to continue growing as a company?

    For years, logistics service provider H.Essers was facing exactly these challenges. Until, a couple of years ago, they decided to completely change course when it came to their HR management approach, making for the fact that they have meanwhile turned into the leading example in their “unsexy” sector.

    H.Essers is a family company that was founded by Henri Essers in 1928, and has since become one of the leading companies in Europe in the field of transport and logistics. The company has experienced solid expansion in the last decades, making for the fact that it now has over 5,400 employees across 67 branches in 15 countries in Western and Eastern Europe. In 2016, H.Essers reported a turnover of 571 million euros and it has the ambition to boost this figure to 1 billion euros by 2020. In 2017 alone, the company hired no less than 350 new employees!

    Wake-up call

    “I remember as if it were yesterday.”, says Mike Dautzenberg, Group HR-director at H.Essers. “Two years ago, a big Swedish furniture company had planned to open a branch in Hasselt. They had locally advertised their vacancies and had, without any difficulty, received more than 10.000 applications. That same year, we too were looking for new employees. The difference being that we even had tremendous difficulty receiving a mere 100 applications in response to our posted vacancies! That was the moment I realised it was high time for us to seriously question our entire Employer Branding strategy – if we didn’t, there was no way we were ever going to realise our growth ambition.”

    Long-term vision

    “The advantage of working for a family company is that the family has a long-term vision. We are given the time and space to build and create – step by step, in a truly sustainable way. That means that even if we wouldn’t reach our targets, that still wouldn’t mean the end of the world: as long as the company can keep on expanding in a healthy way, we are doing well. … On top of that, the Essers family first and foremost focuses on the wellbeing of their employees. Hilde Essers often uses the words “one big family”, and walks her talk because that is truly how she sees her people. If I, for example, don’t feel 100%, she immediately notices. She is an entrepreneur who leads from the heart. I don’t think I could go back to working for an organisation that has a short-term focus and prioritises numbers above people. So I took along this mindset when re-creating our HR strategy.”, Mike says.

    Great results on a small budget

    Every euro that goes towards the Rewards & Recognition Policy at H.Essers has to be turned over several times before it can be spent. Furthermore, there is no margin to pay out fat salaries.
    Yet, in spite of this, these days, H.Essers manages to attract new talent all the time. Plus, both their absenteeism and employee turnover rates are low, the latter one being as low as 8% – a remarkable achievement in the in the field of transport and logistics!

    Person to person, heart to heart

    Believe it or not, these remarkable achievements are easily explained: every initiative that is taken, is taken within the framework of enabling a “heart to heart” connection. First and foremost, the focus always lies on the wellbeing of the employees and their families. Because when employees feel happy and appreciated, when they have the feeling they are being treated as valued members of the company (instead of being treated as “just another worker”), when they feel they are being taken care of, that is when they will radiate this positive energy onto their colleagues, their families and every person that crosses their path.

    Initiatives with a high WOW factor

    Mike told about all kinds of initiatives he has taken in the past seven years. I would like to share five with you in this blog.

    1. My H. Essers care
    In addition to free hospitalisation and group insurance, as a member of H. Essers’ staff you can also enjoy very favourable rates (up to 35% cheaper) for home, fire and car insurance. To this end, the company has entered into a partnership with its dedicated insurance company. In this way, H. Essers can ensure that employees can save hundreds of euros on an annual basis. In addition, all resident family members can also benefit from this benefit.

    2. Refreshing surprises
    During the hot summer months, H. Essers offers its warehouse staff free chilled water. The company also sends ice cream carts out to every site in Belgium to surprise every employee with a delicious ice cream. There are more healthy initiatives in the form of fruit baskets, a smoothiecar or the flu vaccine shot offered free of charge each year. In this way, nice connection moments are created, while spending is limited.

    3. Contact points with the management
    A. Every year, initiatives are taken at the various sites to eat together with all employees, this can be done in the form of a BBQ where the management itself does the grilling, but they also have been seen stirring in a giant pan of paella.
    B. At the end of the year a fun ‘reindeer party’ is organized. A big tent is put on the parking lot at the company headquarters and every employee is invited after work to enjoy some delicious french fries, a pint of beer, or…. just to soak up the nice atmosphere and talk to colleagues.
    C. Every two months, CEO Gert Bervoets and Mike Dautzenberg join forces and go out on the “Gert & Mike on tour”, visiting five branches. For a whole day they talk to the people on the shop floor and listen to their stories or concerns. This way they really get to know what is going on in the workplace and can capture improvement ideas.
    D. The concept of “Young Wolves” was organised for the first time in 2017. During this evening, employees who have up to two years of service, are invited by the management to a nice informal evening that ends with a snack and a drink. The Management Board then shares the vision for the future and talks about the role everyone plays in it. Each board member tells his or her personal story by means of a booklet of friends. They explain who they are, talk about their family or hobbies, and tell them how they started so many years ago, what road they covered so far and where they are heading now.

    4.  Additional benefits
    H. Essers is always looking for all kinds of initiatives to increase the purchasing power of the employees. For example, they have set up a benefits platform in which employees receive an extra discount at certain stores. But it goes even further. A cycling event was recently organised on the site in Genk. Several bicycle suppliers were invited to exhibit their models. All employees of H. Essers were given the opportunity to purchase a bicycle at very competitive prices. This way they not only promote more healthy exercise but also allow employees to make an interesting purchase.

    5. Beyond money
    If the company’s results are good, they naturally want to share this with their employees. However, what they had noticed was that paying an extra bonus, created a disappointing effect. After all, the amount was not so large and by expressing this in cash, people were more frustrated than motivated. After all, this did not really appear to be a form of appreciation. Two years ago, together with the trade unions, the management decided to take a completely different approach. It was decided to convert that amount into points employees could shop with on an online platform that was specially built for H. Essers. The perception was completely different because it was no longer expressed in monetary terms but in points. Moreover, the employees could then really choose something to pamper themselves or their family instead of the money disappearing in the household pot. The fact that people ended up in a kind of online cave of Ali Baba created a completely different perception. This allowed them to choose from gifts, charities, experiences … And often the choice was made together with the family, so that the feeling, experience and visibility was a vast improvement over the old cash reward.

    Conclusion

    Attracting talent is becoming increasingly more difficult for companies. Only offering a competitive salary package or cafeteria plan will not suffice. You need to do better!

    The most important component to attract and retain people is to make them feel that they are really making a difference in the organization, first and foremost by appreciating them. Due to the rapid technological evolution and increasing complexity, there is a danger that people will drop out sooner if they do not really feel connected to their organization. The trend that I see in companies is that they start to reason even more from the ratio (figures) and all focus on technology alone. But you can not make a connection by expressing even more in cash or by implementing additional technical systems. In the first place, you do this on the basis of small ‘human’ things that ensure your employees feel really committed, just like in the story of H.Essers.

    Would you like to know more about our motivation or recognition platforms? Send me an e-mail on nathalie@arteel.co.uk and I will be happy to show you a case from your sector.

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition and Motivation Expert

    Thursday and Friday all eyes are on you

    Surely, this week must be THE “appreciation week” of the year. On Thursday the 1st of March, we traditionally celebrate Compliments Day. And the day after – the first Friday of March – is “Employee Appreciation Day“. Being appreciated and, as such, being given the feeling that one truly matters, is (and will always be!) one of our most important basic needs. And yet, in our corporate world, the positive impact of fulfilling this human need for significance remains seriously underestimated! In this inspiring article, Professor Antoon Vandevelde shares his view on why celebrating Compliments Day entails so much more than merely “paying many compliments”. So let yourself be pleasantly surprised by the light shed upon this matter by an Economist and Philosopher at the Centre for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy at the KU Leuven.

    The 1st of March is national Compliments Day

    For many, this term causes a certain sense of unease. After all, in popular Flemish speech, the reference to someone who “pays many compliments” tends to imply that person is an actor, a show-off, someone who thinks high and mighty of oneself.

    This popular understanding, however, stands in crass contrast to the rationale behind Compliments Day, which has as an objective to spotlight those employees who tend to be most modest, who inconspicuously keep the wheels turning, who are simply always there and as such, contradictorily, seem to have become invisible. Compliments Day is for those employees who dutifully take care of the often overlooked – yet crucial – details, for the old hands to whom the newbies can always turn for help and advice, for the “fixed values” of whom one only realises how fixed they actually were once they have retired.

    These days, our work environments are far less hierarchically structured than they used to be. The old economic model revolved around the exercise of control: time clocks, production line work, wages and rewards in line with the outcome of the work delivered. Those were the days of a vast number of employees performing more or less the same tasks, with terms and conditions of employment determined by collective labour agreements. The culture of this economic model was one characterised by regular conflict, whereby trade unions and employers’ associations took the stage.

    As the new economic model emerged, we witnessed a shift in focus away from mass production and towards a high quality provision of services. As such, creativity, customer service, personal commitment, intrinsic motivation and engagement towards the company mission are gaining in ever-greater importance.  Companies are adopting a more cooperative and horizontal culture. Whereas collective arrangements still have their part to play – no decent remuneration, no motivated employees – it has nevertheless become the case that labour agreements these days inevitably fail to cover all the bases: the essence of what is expected of employees, their heartfelt engagement, is hard to formalise. The new economic model runs on trust, rather than on control and legally enforceable arrangements.

    Trust is the oil of social systems. It is of great significance to all interpersonal relationships. It is not something money can buy, nor something contracts can enforce. Instead, it flows from unspoken reciprocity. You are trusted by people whom you have trusted yourself. Trust relies on the logic of gift, rather than on trade exchange.

    You read it in newspapers, you hear about it in your social circle: even well paid employees sometimes fall victim to burnout and depression. They feel devoured by routine, and claimed by seemingly meaningless tasks. They miss being recognised for the individual capacities they have. Yet in spite of the fact that they feel unhappy, they settle for the good living they make – they feel locked in a golden cage.

    We expect to find a positive correlation between absenteeism and work environments tainted by a practice of harassment and bullying. We expect to find long-term absence through illness in companies with a toxic atmosphere, where bureaucratic intricacies quench employee-enthusiasm. What we expect less is to equally find employees of decently functioning companies disconnecting from work life. Time and time again, it transpires that the crux of this disconnection is the fact that employees experience a serious lack of appreciation. A lack, which often goes hand in hand with a lack of trust placed in them by management and colleagues, as well as with a hierarchical company structure characterised by an excessive amount of administrative measures and an unnecessary greed for control.

    Managers can sometimes be blinded by such presumption that they fail to see their employees might be on a slippery slope. A good manager or head of department, however, is someone who has the know-how to attract the right people to the right job, and to not only salvage but also stimulate enthusiasm.  That requires him or her to allocate employees to positions which bring out the best in them – positions that are neither over-demanding, nor under-challenging. Under all circumstances, a manager needs to be attentive to the fate of his or her employees. This is not only key to the mental health of the employees themselves, but it equally has an economic advantage for the employer – the losses made by companies as a result of employees breaking down are astounding!

    The American Gallup Institute conducted a 25-year long, cross-country study on employee work perception. In an average company, 25% of employees would be eager and enthusiastic, but at the same time, almost 1 in 5 employees would back out and give a minimalistic interpretation to their job. The rest of the employees, the large majority, would do their job just fine, without deviating from the norm in either the positive or the negative sense. Averages, however, cover all kinds of truth: the best companies are in fact blessed with 8 eager and enthusiastic employees, and only 1 employee who tends to take on a negative attitude*. Success is closely connected with the soul people put into their job, and this dedication doesn’t appear out of thin air: it is largely the result of a company culture in which appreciation is held dear.

    Appreciation, however, is not something to hold near to your heart merely as a concept. It needs shaping and expressing: if someone managed to help you out, you send an email or an unexpected gift, which has more symbolic meaning than monetary value. For every occasion, you pay a compliment. A word of appreciation breaks the daily grind, and lifts an achievement out of the ordinary routine. A compliment is complementary: it complements and completes the agreed upon remuneration. It doesn’t have to be grand and impressive. We often even use the diminutive. But that doesn’t stop that tiny compliment from making a big difference.  It heals the possible or actual wounds stemming from strenuous effort, from the wear and tear of routine work, from the exhaustion felt after the completion of a next to impossible task.

    Antoon Vandevelde
    Institute of Philosophy
    Centre for Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy
    KU Leuven

    * For more on this topic, see Rik De Wulf, Soulmade. Bezieling op het werk, Davidsfonds, Leuven, 2015, p. 38 et seq.

    On why and how true leaders truly connect

    The future belongs to those who are capable of connecting with others on a deeper level. Enduring CEOs and top managers are those who know how to connect with their employees; winning politicians are those who know how to connect with the public; successful sales representatives are those who know how to connect with their prospective customers.

    In short, regardless of one’s role or position, connection is key!

    Slowly but surely, we are leaving the era in which technology and the purely analytical and rational way of functioning has always taken centre stage. And we are moving on to a new era: the era of “emotion”. As such, it will be the companies in which that “emotion” plays a pivotal role that will become the protagonists of the success-stories of the future. It will be those companies that promote “feel good” concepts and/or help people fulfil their dreams that will be the ones to make the cut.

    At Arteel, experience has taught us that there are 3 guiding principles that lead to the path of booking results and being successful in this new era.

    Here, I’ll happily share them with you!

    1. Generosity

    Just to be perfectly clear from the outset: “generosity” does not mean giving away or endlessly doing good by financially supporting charitable organisations.

    “Generosity” does mean developing the skills and ability to give yourself. How?

    • By fully embracing vulnerability – it will be the leaders that summon up the courage to show their vulnerability that will be tomorrow’s successful leaders
    • By showing your engagement, basing it on your own personal story
    • By acknowledging the essential importance of recognition and giving twice as much as you receive. Once you have mastered the art of truly recognising the people that cross your path, these people will open up to what you have to say. By expressing your appreciation and giving people a good feeling after meeting you, you secure yourself a position on the winning team!

    Now, how many leaders of this kind do you know? I think you will find that most leaders still position themselves to function from the “I”-perspective and from a purely rational point of view, instead of from their heart, bringing “emotion” into the equation.

    2. First lead yourself

    The media is swamped with theories, lectures and workshops on “leadership”.

    But how many people in leadership positions, functioning on the highest level, are equally truly capable of being a good leader to their very own body and mind? How many leaders of this kind do you know? My guess is: not many.

    Yet how can someone be a true top performer, or fulfil a top executive function, if he or she is not capable of performing the physical tasks of running 10 km at a nice speed or making it up the hill without the need for an electric bike? How can someone supposedly be in “top condition”, yet at the same time only be able to function on pills and energy drinks? Body and mind go hand in hand, and the expression “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is a truism.

    Still, most of us are not aware enough of the fact that investing in both our physical and mental health is essential to be able to function optimally; and in order to be successful in our modern-day economy, functioning optimally is exactly what one needs to do.

    And this is even more true for those in leadership positions: if you cannot manage to be a good leader to your own body and mind, how can you be a role model for others? Al Pacino once said: “I wish the stage was a tightrope where only the brave could enter”. How many leaders, consultants, top managers and role models do you think would meet that benchmark?

    3. Be Passionate and love what you do

    The successful companies of the future are those companies that have the know-how of aligning their own mission and values with the mission and values of their employees, so as to create a healthy company culture.

    Only if employees genuinely can’t wait to walk through their office door and “breathe” the company culture, are they able to connect with customers. Yet how many people truly feel connected with the mission and values of the organisation they work for? How many people truly feel passionate to pull their weight?

    Only with enough oxygen can you keep a fire going. And the same applies to a company: only when the company’s employees receive enough oxygen, can they keep the company’s fire going – come rain or come shine. That is why every person in a leadership position needs to be like a top playing captain of a sports team: well-trained, strong and with a healthy balance in both body and mind. Then, from this position of strength, he or she can create a solid mission and contribute in a positive way to the vision of the team he plays with – pushing his team all the way to the top.

    And, in the light of the above, it goes unspoken that such a top playing captain is made out of far more than a mere check-list of job-related competencies.

    How about you?

    Are you a top playing captain?

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition and Motivation Expert

    On how to do it differently

    You get your wages every month, what more do you expect?

    This was –  a bit jumping to conclusions – the attitude of one of my previous employers. Coming from a company where every effort was considered an obvious thing, working at Arteel is an eye-opener to me every day about how things can be done differently.

    What makes Arteel such a special employer? Appreciation!

    I already wrote down a first account of  ‘my story’ in this blog. Now I would like to resume it.

    The background

    In my previous job I managed a small team. The last months in this position I was stubbornly looking for a way to really do something with the talents of these skilled people. I noticed that I was not the only one who was searching for the best way to do this. Some of my team members wanted to change course within the company, but not much was done by the top team. The functions were strictly delimited, creativity was not punished but certainly not encouraged either. Some felt clearly trapped in their function but also dared not to do anything because the corporate culture did not allow this. Some had already made an attempt to introduce ‘something new’, but if nothing was done after three attempts, this initiative also stopped. I myself was one of these.

    Organizing performance interviews, a solution that seemed to me a very obvious first step and was still lacking in this company, was not an option. The management did not believe in it, and now that I look back on it, they might have been right on that. Because if I had known then what I know now, and especially what I have experienced in a short time about appreciation, then I am convinced that I would have handled it differently.

    The basic principle of appreciation

    Appreciation is more than to, once a year, put someone in the spotlight for an exceptional result – with lots of bells and whistles. Appreciation starts with being attentive to other people’s actions and emotions, day in and day out. You must first notice the actions before you can recognize someone for them. Show genuine interest in what someone is doing and you will be amazed at what doors will open.

    How appreciation can be a lever for …

    Creativity

    A successful organization is one that tries to reinvent itself every day, which is always one step ahead of what the market demands or expects. You need creative employees for this. It is often thought that creativity is something you have or don’t have, but nothing is less true. You can stimulate creative ideas as a business leader by receiving and appreciating them in the right way.

    To propose creative ideas, people have to dare to come out of their shell. Nothing is more frightening than giving an idea and not knowing how others will respond to it. Maybe they think you are a freak, or they laugh at you … Create an environment in which your employees feel safe to put even the most crazy ideas on the table. Always take the input of your employees seriously and do something with it. This does not mean that you have to think that every idea is great, but you should show sincere gratitude for their input and take it into consideration. Always motivate why you think it is a good idea or not.

    There is nothing that will undermine the self-confidence and creativity of employees more than seeing nothing is done with their idea.

    Ownership

    Employees that are involved in the ins and outs of the company, will feel valued. The fact that you allow your employees to think about certain decisions and are genuinely interested in their opinion, makes that they will feel co-owner, will give the best of themselves and will continue to grow.

    Compare it to a toddler who likes to do everything himself. As a parent, you know that your patience (and your china) will be put to the test if you let your little one set the table or put own his shoes himselve, but if you just grin and bear it, you will undoubtedly reap the benefits in the long run. Just think about how those eyes sparkle when they have succeeded in that great task. Your child gets a boost of self-confidence and can hardly wait to acquire another skill.

    Even adults can be as proud as a small child, fortunately. And even though that first attempt was perhaps not the most efficient one, the pride that one experiences will trigger a domino effect of new and ever-improving efforts. It will create a contagious appetite for your employees to always get the best out of themselves.

    In short, appreciating involves getting involved, but at the same time giving someone the opportunity to experiment within his own knowledge and expertise. Letting someone experience and discover their own successes and talents will make sure that they will dare to take the plunge and feel ownership of their responsibilities within the organization.

    Successful retention management

    There are a number of reasons why people decide to leave a company over time. Being insufficiently appreciated is certainly one of them, but the reasons for leaving are, of course, broader than that.

    For example:

    • If the learning period has passed in a new position, people sometimes tire of the job if no new responsibilities are added. There is no more challenge. Either these people get into a bore-out, or they resign.
    • As a new employee you often have high expectations about your boss, job and responsibilities. If after a while these expectations are not met, chances are that people will look elsewhere.
    • Dissatisfied employees who still want to fight for the job of their dreams by attempting to discuss the issues they face, will come home empty-handed when they can’t talk with their supervisor. Frustrations will gain the upper hand, resulting in voluntary leave.

    What is often not realized is that the solution for all these people leaving can be found within the basic principle of appreciation. It all starts with noticing and recognizing someone’s (mal)functioning in an organization. If you, as a manager, are attentive to how someone feels and behaves on the shop floor, boredom, expectations not met and frustrations can be detected before they pose a problem.

    A vicious circle, but a positive one

    The fact that on my previous job talents often remained unused, that creative ideas were not encouraged and that change ideas were not picked up were clear alarm signals. The fact that I finally made the step to leave is proof of that.

    Noticing the problem – recognizing it – is a first important step. The steps you can take after that were discussed above. Employees who feel that their input is valued, who are involved in the organization and who get the necessary room for experimentation and responsibilities are happy employees. Employees who are happy in their job demonstrate this happiness and self-confidence in their interactions with customers, resulting in more satisfied customers. Satisfied customers give extra contentment and motivation to your employees.

    This way, your create a positive working environment.

    A work climate for which someone would even like to give money to be able to work there.

    Leen Joos

    The 50+ Generation or How to turn a Protracted Problem into a Success Story

    Recently, I was triggered by watching “The Intern”, a 2015 comedy-drama film written, directed and produced by Nancy Meyers. The film tells the story of the 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro), an ex-executive who finds himself stuck in a boring rut after his retirement. To give his life a little boost, he applies to a senior citizen intern program and gets hired at a fast-growing e-commerce fashion start-up, working under the assignment of founder and CEO Jules Ostin (played by Anne Hathaway). The film beautifully depicts how Ben’s engagement, efforts and experience distinguish him, in spite of Jules’ initial scepticism.

    Whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, Ben takes the time it takes to listen to people, give them little tips and initiate small improvements. He slowly manages to win over co-workers with his congeniality and it doesn’t take long before his positive mind-set also lands him into Jules’ good graces, who starts involving him in important projects. As a result, recognition and appreciation abound, in turn creating a positive upward spiral of motivation, cooperation and cross-pollination.

    Contrast

    What I found really appealing about “The Intern” is that this story stands in beautiful contrast to the pessimistic analyses of our 50+ generation on the work floor – analyses that are flying around like leaves in autumn, with at their core the worrying viewpoint that workers over 50 tend to be troublesome and obsolete.

    Our ageing Western population is a fact. That all of us will have to work until we are at least 67 years old is a fact too. And that the majority of workers over 50 tend to seriously lag behind when it comes to the most recent technological developments is – unfortunately so – just as much of a fact.

    Add to this that our 50+ generation steadily keeps on growing, and the result is that more and more people of this generation nowadays find themselves struggling with both their mental and their physical health. Indeed, the numbers don’t lie: in the last decade, absenteeism is this age category has surged to a record high!

    And so, many members of our 50+ generation are potentially facing a real threat, especially the ones working for companies who look upon their people as mere money-making “work instruments” that have to be as cost-effective and profitable as possible.

    The Age of Selfies

    Our contemporary society can be defined in terms of such outspoken individualism that we might as well refer to this day and age as the “Age of Selfies”: so many people feel lonely and alone these days! They might desperately try to shroud this sense of isolation by painting ideal – yet often fake! – pictures of their lives on all possible social media platforms, but in reality this practice creates nothing more than a mere illusion.

    Yet people do it more than ever – why? Because it is part of human nature to want to feel at least a little important. And people sometimes do the strangest of things to satisfy this need to experience the feeling that they truly matter!

    But what people actually really need is social connection – a sense of belonging and heart-to-heart communication. “The human touch” is what they sometimes call it – something which is hard to find these days, especially in our corporate world. And that is such a shame, because it is exactly this human touch that can help lift people out of their detrimental sense of isolation.

    As a matter of fact, it goes even further than that: people who feel they are making a positive contribution to this world by dedicating their time and energy in a worthwhile way, are far less likely to fall ill or experience pain. Bart Morlion, a renowned pain doctor, recently elaborated on this in a striking article in De Tijd.

    And so, we find that illness is often rooted in unfulfilled desires, in frustration and in social wrongs. Therefore, if we want to tackle this societal challenge, I feel we have to steer our society away from the dominant selfie-trend, and help it evolve into a service-based community: we have to ask ourselves the question how we can mean more to our fellow men and women, our colleagues and our families.

    Turn a Challenge into an Opportunity

    Adversity can be turned to opportunity simply by adjusting our perception and our attitude” – Gail Lynne Goodwin

    So, what if we, as a society as a whole, started to appreciate our 50+ generation a little more for the potential it undeniably has? What if we started to stimulate its members to share the valuable insights and experience they have been gathering for all of those years to help out our younger generations?

    Provided we all approached this change of course with the necessary open-mindedness, wouldn’t it lead to a win-win for each and every one of us?

    I am convinced it would!

    People over 50 would benefit from a mental boost because we, as a society, would be conveying the message that we consider them to be of added value, rather than obsolete. As such, they would be stimulated to keep on investing in themselves. And this, in turn, would positively impact their physical health. On top of that, our younger generations would benefit from being given a helping hand to grow into happy, balanced and successful people more quickly.

    Taking all of this potential into account, isn’t it high time we changed our perception and our attitude?

    Of course, our 50+ generation benefits from higher wages – something which often turns their employment into an issue. I do not mean to overlook or disregard this indisputable fact. On the contrary, actually. Because what if we did the math and weighed these payroll expenses against how much it costs our society when our 50+ generation mentally tunes out? Not to mention the societal cost of the related physical ailments. Because mind and body are intertwined – we all know that! Which means the opposite is equally true: the healthier our minds, the healthier our bodies, the more energy we generate, the happier we are and the more we can do for others.

    It is really that simple.

    Moreover, the hidden costs of people mentally tuning out are on the rise, across the board – that means including our youngsters! Yet, often, all people really need to stay tuned is a little bit of heartfelt attention and appreciation – a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

    So, what is keeping us from recruiting our 50+ generation to play this role it seems so perfectly fit to play? I, for starters, know several people well over their fifties, eager to take this task upon them – people with a great amount of joie de vivre, drive and life lessons to share, who are currently not employed simply because they are perceived as being too expensive.

    I think it would be a solid policy to start stimulating the employment of our 50+ generation – all necessary financial means included! In an ideal world, the tax wedge, as far as our 50+ generation would be concerned, would become close to non-existent. And we would also benefit from reconsidering the existing rule regarding the number of allocated days off as a reflection of the number of years worked: as it stands, this often leads to undesired disproportion, making for the fact that employers in certain sectors are anything but motivated to hire employees over 50.

    This kind of policy change is bound to have a positive impact, as it would entail a win-win-win-win situation: our 50+ generation would win because they would be meaningfully reintegrated, our younger generation would win because they would be supported in their professional growth process, employers would win because it would be made affordable for them to attract seasoned talent into their organization, and – last but not least – society as a whole would win because the costs stemming from burn-out, depression and long-term absenteeism would fall significantly.

    A Sense of Meaningfulness above all

    Humans are a profoundly social species: our need for a sense of meaningfulness and our drive to connect with others, are embedded in our biology and evolutionary history.

    Or to quote William James, a well-known 19th century philosopher and psychologist:

    If any organism fails to fulfil its potentialities, it becomes sick” – William James

    This is exactly what we see happening in our society today. People are not triggered enough to keep on growing and fulfilling their potentialities, definitely not after a certain age. Because once people turn 50, the process of being considered “obsolete” sets in. This shared, societal mind-set has a negative impact – be it unintentionally – on a large part of our population, and it in turn stimulates its own exponential growth.

    We need to counter this trend!

    Our society is in dire need of more role models such as Ben Whittaker in “The Intern” – people who do their best for others, and who are rewarded for doing so. We, as a society, urgently need to make an effort to prove that our 50+ generation is anything but troublesome and obsolete… just as it is up to our 50+ generation to do the same! It is our joint task to motivate this increasingly large segment of society to stay active by acknowledging their wisdom, appreciating them and challenging them to keep on contributing to our world.

    In my company, I have 2 very special people working for me – one of them is 70 years old, the other one 72. On top of that, there are several of my other employees who are well in their 50s and older. It is so beautiful and inspiring to see in which way these people show up at work every morning: eager to start their day, engaged, ready and capable of making a difference – both within and outside of our company. And it is truly remarkable and a joy to witness how having a sense of meaningfulness in life goes hand in hand with a stable and healthy mental and physical condition, and high energy levels – regardless of age!

    So, YES, there is another way… and isn’t it high time then for a paradigm shift in the right direction?

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition Expert

    5 tips for successfully implementing change in a company

    ‘Yes We Can.’ This famous quote from Barack Obama was his way to encourage his people for a series of upcoming changes. These words are a good example that Obama understood all too well that change is difficult. They need confidence to believe that change is the best way, even though it is often not the easiest way.

    Due to the current dynamic, change is no longer an optional choice, but a necessity, especially in the business world. Standing still is going backwards. However, up to 70% of all business change processes fail according to the Vlerick Business School. Companies that try to implement change often encounter resistance from their employees. This resistance can fortunately be overcome if you understand the origin or the meaning of this resistance.

    We list below 5 common reasons why people oppose change.

    1. Man as creature of habit

    Man is a creature of habit, and this does not necessarily have to be negative. Habits are a kind of protection mechanism for our body. Without habits, we would be flooded with stimuli day in and day out. Processes on autopilot require less effort and brain power, and therefore offer a grip in daily life. Resistance to change is therefore a natural reflex of our body that is taken out of balance.

    It takes a lot of effort to break habits. Just think of abandoning the habit of opening a bag of chips in front of the television in the evening. It requires a lot of willpower and perseverance to unlearn an old habit and take up a new one. And there will certainly come a time when you are too tired to stand up against that old habit and that you still succumb. There is nothing wrong with that, but you have to take into account the scenario that it will not always run perfectly.

    Likewise with change processes on the work floor: it is important to realize that this too requires a lot of energy from the employees and that an old habit can not be changed easily. One person will stick more to his habits than the other, or in other words, one person will be more resistant to change than the other. Take this difference into account and reward and acknowledge the efforts made by employees. Because it will be an effort for everyone anyway!

    When big changes are announced, people quickly think that everything will be different, that they will have to radically say goodbye to all the habits they have had up to now. Employees will be afraid to lose control. Therefore, leave room for old habits and customs. In your communication, focus especially on the essential things that need to be changed, but also validate the existing practices that do run well.

    2. Uncertainty

    Change makes people insecure. People have a lot of questions. It has also been shown that restructuring can also have negative consequences. This makes them insecure about their job, their future, their person. What if the change is not successful, will layoffs follow?

    People need clarity in such a situation. But also be honest and transparent if the future will be less bright. The more concrete the information you can give, the better.

    They long for clear goals and expectations, within a realistic time frame. Take small steps, do not expect the impossible. Too big a step will deter employees. Set achievable sub-targets, and see that people experience a sense of success, however small that success may be. This gives employees confidence and desire to go through the process step by step.

    3. Fear of losing face

    People are afraid of losing face. They are afraid that they will not master the new skills, that they will not meet the new requirements. It requires an extra effort to learn new skills, regardless of age. Sufficient guidance and training is therefore necessary to support employees.

    Therefore, imagine the change as a learning trajectory, and not as something that has to run perfectly from one day to the next. Making mistakes is allowed! It must not be a Hopping procession of Echternach, but it can not hurt to take one step back after three steps forward. Give this message to the employees. This will give them more breathing room and will reassure them.

    4. Autonomy

    Autonomy, in addition to belonging and competence, is one of the three basic psychological needs of each person according to self-determination theory. Autonomy is about getting space, about determining what you do yourself and being responsible for the choices you have made. If this basic need is not met, a person will become exhausted.
    In processes of change, there is often a tendency to impose novelties. However, this goes against the need for autonomy of every human being, which will increase resistance to accepting change. It is preferable to outline a clear framework in which employees can work and give them the freedom to move around. Facilitate and stimulate, instead of checking and steering. Let the people decide for themselves how they want to further shape their job within that new framework. This will not only increase their sense of ownership, but you will also be surprised by the creativity that will emerge.

    5. What’s in it for me?

    Often change processes in a company are announced from the perspective of the company. Changes are obviously meant to make the company better, the turnover will increase, the production process will be more efficient, … But what does the employee gain?
    Man is a social being. However, there are sufficient social experiments that show that – when it comes down to it – self-interest prevails over group interest. If there is insufficient communication about what the employee can gain, he will only see a big mountain in front of him where he absolutely does not see the benefit of climbing it. People need to experience that a change will also mean a personal improvement. Try to translate the change process into a win-win situation for both the employee and the company.
    In this way, the employee will feel more connected, which by the way is also a basic psychological need of the person! Change is always challenging, but when people feel involved, the process will be run much smoother.
    In summary, the human being is a creature of habit that longs for autonomy, connectedness and feeling competent. If you keep these basic aspects in mind at the start of a change process, then you are already making a good start. But do not lose sight of people and their needs during this ride. Measure the progress of the change process not only on the basis of hard business aspects (turnover, production, quality), but also on the basis of soft aspects (job satisfaction, involvement, collegiality, trust). A change process is only successful if both aspects are improved. After all, you wouldn’t like a production increase that implied your employees would be unhappier than ever before.
    Good luck!
    Leen Joos

    A Simple Recipe for Customer Loyalty – 9 Ingredients

    In the light of the Easter holiday last week, my family and I decided to enjoy a short but exquisite break at our all-time favourite resort: Alpenresort Schwarz in Tirol – an amazing 5-star hotel that comes with a fascinating story!

    Almost 54 years ago, Alpenresort Schwarz arose out of nothing when a farmer and a hairdresser decided to start up a small bed and breakfast.  “Zimmer mit fließend Wasser” – “rooms with running water” – is what it said on their nameplate. Fast-forward to anno 2018 and the meanwhile 124-room hotel finds itself classified as one of the most beautiful luxury spa-resorts in Europe.

    We love to go there because of the friendly Austrian people, because of the beautiful environment and because of the excellence we find in every experience the Schwarz hotel offers: every year we visit the hotel, we are amazed at how the Pirktl family (the owners of the hotel) once again succeeded in raising their service level even more!

    Furthermore, another important reason why we personally choose to return to this magnificent place, over and over again, is because of the bond we established with the Pirktl family – a bond that started quite a few years ago, when my former dog managed to destroy a beautiful couch in our then hotel room. Very ashamed, I went to Mrs. Pirktl – the “Big Boss” herself – to explain what had happened. I expected an outrageous bill and a future ‘no entry’ for my dog, but things turned out differently. Instead of this negative scenario, Mrs. Pirktl took advantage of this embarrassing situation to build a long-term relationship with us by treating us like one of their most important customers – in spite of the fact that my dog had just destroyed their couch. And what she gave, she got back… and much more than that too!

    Since then, we have never been to any other hotel in Austria. And it seems we are not the only guests who feel this way:  every day, the hotel is filled with more than 60% return customers and 40% new customers. And regardless of the economic downturn, this resort – year after year – has managed to achieve a yearly occupancy rate of more than 91%. These are astounding numbers for the hotel business!

    So what is their secret? How does the Pirktl family manage to build such an amazingly high level of customer loyalty? Let me highlight for you here the 9 most important ingredients of this – in essence – simple recipe…

    1. The power of personal contact

    During your stay as a guest, you meet at least one member of the Pirktl family every day. The Pirktls make a point of starting a small conversation with each of their guests to make sure they are satisfied on every level. This involvement and engagement creates a tremendous bond with each and every guest, as well as with their personnel. You won’t find the Pirktls in their office or in meetings – no, you will always find them right at the centre of their hotel, surrounded by their guests and employees.

    How many businesses do you know (except from the really small ones) where you have such easy access to the business owners or the management? And if you do, how does it feel or how do you experience this? What about your own business? How many businesses, do you think, have disconnected from their core and are instead primarily focusing on numbers and processes as their most important goal?

    2. Actions speak louder than words

    Not only do the Priktls carefully listen to the feedback from their customers, they also take action. This makes their customers feel even more appreciated and, as a result, it becomes an important part of the value creation process.

    How many times have you been asked as an employee or as a customer to complete a survey? And how many times have you had the impression that real action was taken based on your feedback? Or how many times were you informed of the next steps the organization would take as a result of your input?

    3. The vital value of “love’

    The Pirktls, as well as their workforce, truly love their guests. Every initiative they take, everything they do, is initiated from the heart. They genuinely care for their customers, and this way of ‘caring’ is reflected in every single detail.

    Can you name 5 businesses where you have the feeling that the staff and management really care about you as a customer? Where you have the feeling that they really go the extra mile to meet your needs, and connect with you in a loving way?

    4. Recognition is key

    The 250 Alpenresort Schwarz employees receive lots of recognition from their management. This stimulates them to give the very best of themselves all the time, which is something the customers pick up on. As such, in turn, they equally end up receiving lots of recognition from the hotel guests, creating a self-reinforcing upward spiral!

    What about the company you work for: do you get or give recognition on a regular basis?  Or do you express your sincere appreciation if you experience a great service when visiting a hotel or other venue?

    5. Focus on quality-quality-quality!

    I never visited a hotel where the standards of quality are so high. From the food to the service to the accommodation: the Pirktls dazzle their customers with their excellent level of quality, reflected in every detail. Indeed, when it comes to quality, they don’t compromise. Every euro they earn is reinvested to raise the level of service. Every time we return, we discover new things – tiny and huge alike – that they put into place to raise the resort’s wow factor.

    What about the company you work for? Or what about your job? Do you continue to invest in yourself and your company to raise the level of quality you offer?

    6. One mission: “Freude geben, freude bekommen” (“Giving joy is receiving joy”)

    Every employee – whether one of the cleaning ladies, managers or kitchen staff – is clearly connected to the resort’s one and only mission: “giving joy is receiving joy”. It is fascinating to witness how all communication is built around this one mission, as is everything else that is done at the Schwarz Hotel.

    What about your company? Can you rephrase the mission of your company in three sentences? And is this mission equally clear for every employee? Do they know what they are contributing to, and why they do what they do?

    7. The planet and its people – they care!

    Alpenresort Schwarz is located in a beautiful, natural and quiet environment, and this close-to-nature approach is also reflected in everything they do. They support the local farmers by deliberately doing business with them instead of buying from big concerns just to keep prices low, and they do their fair share when it comes to climate change by investing in new solar and rainwater systems to reduce their carbon footprint. On top of that, they designed a total health plan for their employees, and they continue to invest in them by offering them all kinds of training courses throughout the year. Indeed, Alpenresort Schwarz won several prices for their sustainable operation procedures!

    How many businesses or managers have lost touch with what sustainability really embodies?

    8. “That little extra”: the difference between ordinary and extraordinary

    As a guest, “that little extra” is what you get and you are treated as a VIP – regardless of which room or package you booked. Alpenresort Schwarz builds their offers in such a way that everyone’s expectations are met, and even exceeded. Whether you come with your family with children, or you are there to play golf, or you want to utterly relax, or you bring your dog with you, … everything is taken care of in amazing ways!

    Every customer has different needs, and values different things. In which way do you craft your offers? Are they truly based on the needs and wants of your customers?

    9. The importance of humility

    Last but not least, it is striking that – after everything the Pirktl family has achieved – they nevertheless haven’t forgotten the beauty and importance of staying humble. They feel they are there to serve you, and to make your stay one of the most fabulous experiences you have ever had. As such, notwithstanding their success, they are approachable and stay close to their employees and customers… a truly golden ingredient!

    How many business owners or top-managers do you know who – notwithstanding their success –  nevertheless stay humble and remain approachable?

    Nowadays, in this complex and highly demanding world, we sometimes forget that if we want to build an amazing bond with our employees and customers – and as such create a loyal customer base – all we have to do is go back to these 9 basic ingredients.
    Indeed, the recipe can really be that simple…

    And since, at Arteel, Customer Loyalty is our specialty, we would be honoured to help you to increase your wow factor too! Feel welcome to browse our website or simply contact me by email on nathalie@arteel.co.uk. My team and I will be delighted to inspire you.

    Nathalie Arteel
    Leading Angel Arteel Group
    Recognition and Motivation Expert