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Building a culture of improvement from the bottom up

The people are the eyes and ears of an organization, and they need to be empowered and trusted to make observations because they’re the experts on what’s happening on the front lines – the good and the not-so-good. When we feel like we can speak up, our sense of ownership – and job satisfaction – grows by the day.

At the start of the pandemic, employers seemed reasonable and empathetic, offering more accommodations for things like stress and childcare gaps. Three years later, things are very different — with “rage quitting” and “bare minimum Mondays” making headlines as some of the employment trends du jour, it’s clear there’s been a shift in the way workers feel about their employers (and vice versa). 50.5 million Americans quit their jobs last year – a staggering number on its own, and even more amazing when considering the mass layoffs happening at the same time.

The pandemic’s role in “The Great Resignation” is significant. Employees had time and space to re-evaluate their priorities and work-life balance, coming face-to-face with their working conditions. It stopped making as much sense to keep on trudging through long commutes and feeling voiceless in the day-to-day grind. With unemployment rates at record lows in many countries, the power went to the people and workers were much more secure in their ability to find new employment opportunities. 

While many employees have reported feeling undervalued by their organization for a long time, the pandemic threw gas on that fire. We’ve seen a noticeable shift in workplace values unfolding, with today’s employees more aggressively prioritizing opportunities for personal and professional growth. With remote work, lines between work and leisure are more blurred than ever and many employees are craving something more valuable than just a paycheck. And while that’s quite important, pay doesn’t give us purpose. 

One of the things often missed by organizations is the need to involve employees in driving meaningful improvements in the workplace. As the saying goes – if you’re not getting better, you’re probably getting worse. This is why leadership needs to focus on creating a culture of improvement at every level of the organization. Igniting this improvement engine from the bottom up gives us all a sense of ownership in finding ways to get better. 

Creating a culture of improvement happens when confident, capable workers have the knowledge they need to be great at their work and to speak up about it. We all can grow in awareness as we make new observations on the job, discovering new ideas, processes, and tools to do things better and get better results. People are the eyes and ears of an organization, and they need to be empowered and trusted to make observations because they’re the experts on what’s happening on the front lines – the good and the not-so-good. When we feel like we can speak up, our sense of ownership – and job satisfaction – grows by the day. 

Within any company that prioritizes a culture of improvement is a leadership team that is highly receptive to feedback. Workers need to be emboldened to speak up and offer feedback and criticism without fear. They need to know their voices matter. But, if leadership isn’t receptive to feedback, they will lose so much of that vital visibility into the day-to-day happenings of the organization outside of their sphere. Feedback is an invaluable currency and workers can lead the charge on establishing change for the better. 

When I was only about two months into my job at SafetyCulture back in 2017, there was a time I pushed back on our CEO about a process I felt could be improved. He immediately stopped and said that he appreciated me speaking my mind, it was a good point, and he would put me in contact with the appropriate person so we could have further discussions. I remember saying to myself, “wow, he didn’t take it personally, actually loved that I challenged him, and closed the loop on something that I voiced!” It gave me the confidence to continue doing that throughout my journey with SafetyCulture and is one of the reasons I am where I am today. 

A culture of improvement promotes employee engagement and motivation in ways that kombucha on tap can’t top (not that we don’t love those breakroom perks). When employees feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that their contributions matter, they are more likely to feel motivated and invested in their work. A culture of improvement creates a sense of ownership and accountability for the company’s collective success, which leads to increased productivity, better overall performance, and staying ahead of the competition. Leaders can say they value their employees until they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter until they can show it. Think about it – when you’re encouraged to be innovative, forward-thinking, and bring new ideas to the table, don’t you think you’d have a boost in creativity? Ultimately, leaders that prioritize a culture of improvement are more likely to be the ones retaining their employees.

Safety is in our name, and improving health and safety is right there at the top of the list of things we value. Our customers use our platform to drive not just higher safety, compliance, quality, and better training, but also to drive improvements throughout their entire organizations. Those tend to be seen in areas like increased efficiency, more reliable production, higher customer satisfaction, more revenue, and more profit – cleaner, faster, stronger, better. When we look under the hood of every one of our use cases over the last 10 years the outcome is always improvement – every single time. It’s always about finding ways to get better. 

The biggest winners we see using our platform all have the same thing in common: they just keep finding ways to keep on getting better. Take Life Time Fitness, which has deployed SafetyCulture across many facets of its business including its general management team, childcare centers, rock walls, and natatoriums, to ensure safety best practices are always being followed. When COVID-19 hit and health and safety became more important than ever, Life Time was able to easily add additional questions and tasks to the cleanliness checklists they were already using. As regulations continued to evolve, template updates were made and deployed immediately so everyone could be on top of new procedures, protecting Life Time staff and allowing guests to prioritize their health – safely. 

Companies vaguely throwing around the word “improvement” can be pretty eye-roll-inducting. We need to reframe the idea by putting more individual ownership behind it. While everyone in an organization can be a so-called improvement specialist, we’ve found that the people driving improvement don’t necessarily describe themselves that way. There are tons of organizations that undervalue workers who are “undercover” improvement specialists, and they deserve recognition for everything they’re doing to grow the company. It’s not part of your company culture unless everyone embraces it loud and proud. 

‘Improvement’ is so much more than a blasé corporate buzzword – it’s an extremely important component of organizational success and how we can avoid more “bare minimum Mondays”. It’s time to recognize the value of making every worker an improvement specialist and celebrate the positive impact they make. As leaders, we need to shift our focus and embrace improvement as a culture that involves everyone at every level. Because if they don’t, it’s only a matter of time before the honeymoon phase wears off and employees start looking elsewhere for a company that truly empowers them beyond a paycheck.

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    15 July 2024


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