I had the pleasure of attending Conscious Capitalism Boston’s monthly meetup where two executives spoke about team engagement and culture. While many organizations focus on top and bottom line performance metrics, very few intentionally create culture. Yet the culture is what allows people in organizations to thrive, to engage, and to do their personal best. Building a culture is difficult. It requires intention, planning, and measurement, just like any other organizational initiative. More than anything you have to know your team and be connected to them in order to build a culture.

When John Pepper, Founder and CEO, of Boloco spoke, it became clear that engagement becomes a particularly difficult task when employees are paid below a living wage. Boloco is a community-oriented burrito shop chain centralized in the Boston area. Employees that cannot subsist on a wage, with limited choice, are at the job because they have to be and have more important things to concern themselves with then loving their job. Contrary to common practice by comparable companies in the sector, Mr. Pepper has always paid a living wage, provides leadership training, and has created a culture that I would describe as preparing his employees for ‘what’s next’. He doesn’t expect them to work for his burrito chain forever and wants them to be better prepared for the next level work opportunity upon their departure. Employees appreciate working at Boloco, which contributes to the culture of community and engagement. Mr. Pepper’s choices are humanity-based and involve a deep connection to the team.

The human equation is often the most overlooked aspect of business.

Engagement challenges at Next Jump are of an entirely different nature. Next Jump is a Harvard-recognized technology company focused on changing workplace culture. Greg Kunkel, SVP and Co-Founder of Next Jump shared that at one point of growth, Next Jump hired high-demand and highly-paid young engineers out of college that had multiple job offers. In time, they found that their new employees more-or-less insisted that they would only do certain kinds of work regardless of the company needs. Their attitude was fueled by the belief that they could always leave the company and find another job. At a point the senior leadership realized that their hiring practices were impacting the culture in a negative way. They took drastic measures and let half of their engineers go, thoughtfully changed their hiring practices, and hired new engineers who wanted to be there and would support the culture they wanted to build.

If team members, especially leaders, are bringing the culture down, no matter how talented they are, they need to go. I have seen the negative impacts to morale and to organizational growth when companies keep toxic personalities around for too long.

Recently the owner of a company that builds and installs shower doors shared his path to starting his own business ten years ago. In his earlier career, he was employed by a shower door company that he helped build for twelve years. For the first eight years, it went very well. He thought he’d work for that company until he retired. He was made to feel an important member of the team both in treatment and in compensation. Then something shifted and he suddenly felt in his words ‘like a number’. I gathered that after all his efforts he suddenly felt unimportant, perhaps disposable, and not fairly compensated. So, he made the uncomfortable and unexpected choice to go out on his own, to the dismay of the owner of the company. Because this man left after spending the last four of twelve years feeling unsatisfied and underappreciated, you can see how this was a leadership and a cultural problem.

When a top employee feels like they are a number, they will leave eventually. But more notably, when you allow your relationship with your top employees to weaken, you won’t even realize they feel unsatisfied.

I’ve shared three different stories involving three very different situations all pertaining to engagement and culture. There isn’t a single solution to engagement or to building a great culture. But it seems clear to me that you need to stay connected to the people and intentionally work to shape the culture.

What tips do you have for team engagement and culture building?

The tenets of Conscious Capitalism are borne from a book co-authored by John Mackey, CEO, Whole Foods Market and Raj Sisodia, Professor, Babson University. There are over thirty Conscious Capitalism chapters in thirteen countries around the world. www.consciouscapitalism.org

Enjoy a free download called Five Keys to Unlocking Health, Happiness, and Meaning in Life on www.tarramitchell.com. For more of my thoughts on leadership, personal growth, and success as find me on Twitter: @tarrammitchell and/or Facebook: @tarrammitchell.

Tarra Mitchell is incorporating her distinctive background in business and yoga to contribute to the great conversation around leadership and consciousness. Her upcoming book, The Yoga of Leadership, shows how personal wellbeing is connected to success to inspire and empower leaders to lead healthier, happier lives, and better connect with and engage their teams.

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