Executive SummaryThere’s no question that building a successful corporate culture must start at the top and remain a C-suite priority. Just as important is engagement at all levels of the company—and that doesn’t mean simply filling out surveys and attending company meetings, writes Assurant Inc. President and CEO Alan Colberg. He notes that real engagement is about identifying, acknowledging and leveraging inclusive perspectives to encourage collaboration and enable the organization to grow, innovate and transform its culture.
Corporate culture is a key priority for me and our company, and has been since I stepped into my current role at Assurant three years ago. Without a fundamentally strong and engaging corporate culture, no organization—let alone those focused on providing an exceptional customer experience—can succeed.
However, there can be resistance to culture change. The “it’s always been done that way” mentality, along with the challenges that come with operating a global company, can create significant obstacles if the right culture is not already embedded as a strategic imperative.
There’s no question that building a successful corporate culture must start at the top and remain a C-suite priority. Just as important is engagement at all levels of the company—and that doesn’t mean simply filling out surveys and attending company meetings. Real engagement is about identifying, acknowledging and leveraging inclusive perspectives to encourage collaboration and enable the organization to grow, innovate and transform its culture.
Listen and Learn
While there are many ways to build a positive and productive company culture, ultimately it requires inclusiveness and engagement. Organizations are full of employees with unique stories, backgrounds and experiences that can help the company move forward if we are willing and capable of tapping into them.
Recognizing the talent of employees across the organization should happen at all levels. While we aim to set our tone from the top, we also have bottom-up initiatives that have had a major impact on collaboration and other pillars of the company’s culture. For example, we regularly hold “Talent Spotlights.” Employees who are “spotlighted” share their personal and professional journey with our management committee and other senior leaders, giving us a much better perspective of their backgrounds, capabilities and aspirations. The learning is that employees can provide day-to-day insights that can be valuable to everyone when they are given the right platform.
An ongoing effort to encourage employees to spend time and interact with each other is also crucial. I call it the “never eat lunch alone” rule and encourage all our employees to follow it. Yes, it’s simple, but my experience has shown that if you can try to spend time with a colleague every day—including those with whom you don’t work directly—you’ll learn something new. Collectively, these conversations can contribute to building relationships and a great culture that will excel in supporting business goals and fulfilling customer needs.
Investing in Employees
Another important element to building a successful company culture is the investment an organization makes in its employees. When a company prioritizes investing in its people, it shows that it truly cares about the professional growth of its workforce. This, in turn, motivates employees to really engage, bringing their best thinking and whole, empathetic self to work each day to effectively meet the needs of customers worldwide.
At Assurant, we’ve developed a number of programs to help our employees improve their skills and leadership potential. What’s especially powerful about these initiatives is that they bring together managers from around the world to collaborate on applying what they are learning to impact the business.
While skills development and teamwork are incredibly important, one of the most significant outcomes from these initiatives has been the exponential growth of each individual’s network within the organization. Learning experiences like this have enabled employees to reach out, ask for help and collaborate in ways that previously were not happening, leading to better resource allocation and improved operational efficiency.
These programs also help to break down silos and create new opportunities, which is critical to any company’s ability to outperform. Because of them, our employees are better equipped to assess and address the needs of large, complex clients and to develop new solutions.
While we invest money in our employees’ development, we also expect our leaders to invest their time—and not just as guest facilitators for many of our leadership sessions but in supporting the on-the-job growth of their staff. That is where the most powerful learning takes place.
In order to develop a strong culture across departments, offices and countries, an organization must strive to give employees the opportunity to understand what the business is doing. In other words, always be transparent about the company’s successes and failures, and share the important learnings that result from both.
While technology can play a role in this, it’s important to understand its limitations. Indeed, there’s no substitute for in-person gatherings and conversations. At Assurant, we’re very serious about this, with regular town hall meetings that move well beyond a bunch of executives recounting financial updates.
We hold employee forums in offices across the globe, including call centers, repair and logistics facilities, and our corporate offices. They are streamed live and include a robust Q&A to encourage companywide participation. Additionally, we share updates on nearly everything—HR, lines of business, new technology and product announcements—and prioritize making the meetings interesting and understandable to every employee.
For example, while management is present and active during quarterly all-employee town halls, the local office also has the opportunity to share interesting office history, fun facts and recent events, as well as information about their location including stats and tourist attractions. Participation has steadily increased as word has gotten out that the meetings are opportunities to learn more about the company, our businesses, our locations and our colleagues. We also recently launched an enterprisewide survey, giving employees the opportunity to share their voice throughout the year on key topics impacting our culture, engagement and execution.
Caring and Connecting
In addition to understanding the professional priorities and concerns of your employees, companies and their leaders must also be tuned in to what matters beyond the workplace.
Community engagement initiatives and a corporate commitment to social responsibility consistent with company strategy are key. We embrace a global/local approach at Assurant to ensure the right balance.
We focus our philanthropic resources and community engagement in the hometowns where we operate worldwide. We do so by partnering with core nonprofit organizations that align with our purpose, values and practices, including our long-standing commitment to equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and fair treatment of all. We bring our philanthropic and community engagement commitment to life through three focus areas: homes, financial understanding and connecting in communities.
Our local “Engagement Champion Teams” are the heartbeat of our local outreach as they rally volunteers to build homes, provide disaster relief support, mentor students, and donate both their time and dollars to causes that matter to them. Our matching gifts program is another way we give back and encourage an “Assurant Cares” spirit. We also organize dozens of group volunteer events and provide eight hours of paid time per year for community service.
While every company must find its own unique way to nurture and build its respective culture, experience shows that creating an environment that encourages and supports inclusiveness is paramount to success. Keep it simple, strive for engagement, and always remember to never eat lunch alone.