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Company's culture can drive its success

  • Published Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.

What makes an organization a great place to work?

Accounting Today magazine recently named Allen, Gibbs & Houlik L.C. one of the 2011 top 100 best accounting firms to work for. We're honored by the recognition — but like many other companies in what's likely to become a double-dip recession, we're combating the "stagflation" squeeze.

Recently highlighted at Wichita's Economic Outlook Conference, stagflation is the combination of stagnating growth plus inflationary costs. As our overall economy stagnates and revenues are generally flat, we're faced with pressure on margins as fuel, food and other costs push wages upward — even if barely.

After two years of only modest wage increases in a metro area hit hard by the downturn, why would AGH do well in a national ranking of best places to work?

Because it's not all about the numbers. Yes, wages and overall compensation are a crucial component of employee satisfaction.

But while studies conducted by human resource organizations consistently rank salary high on a list of factors determining employee satisfaction, salary is primarily a factor that can cause significant dissatisfaction if it's not equitable, but which rarely has the power alone to satisfy an employee.

Instead, factors such as meaningful work, opportunity for career advancement and a positive relationship with the employee's supervisor have more impact.

I would never presume that AGH has it all figured out how to create a great place to work. There are always improvements and work to be done.

But if we've done one thing right in that area, it's establishing the firm's values and creating a culture that supports those values. We've built a culture with the philosophy that if we help our clients succeed, everything else will fall into place.

That culture then drives the kind of people who are attracted to the firm, and who are successful here. Those who are committed to helping our clients succeed and who feel fulfilled by doing that are people who find AGH a great place to work. Those are people whose values are aligned with the firm's core values and mission.

I recognize that talking about aligning employee motivation with "mission and vision" borders on New Age jargon. In fact, if you read the mission and vision statement of 10 random businesses, you might be hard-pressed to tell them apart with all the talk of "pursuit of excellence," "innovation in products and services," "maximizing value," "employees as partners."

Maybe it doesn't even matter what your particular high-flown mission statement is. The real signal for your employees is in the execution: what you do when staying true to your mission starts to cost you money.

If your business principles say employees are your most important asset, would you terminate a high-productivity sales rep if he or she doesn't treat others on the team with respect? If you do, you're reinforcing principles at the cost of profits.

Creating a great place to work doesn't require the highest salaries, the coolest perks or the fanciest offices. All those things help, of course. But the organization that can establish clearly defined values and a culture to support those values has a better chance at finding and retaining the employees who share those values.

There will always be someone else who can offer a higher salary, a more unusual perk or a bigger office. But if you can provide a better fit for the values most important to your employees... you can be equally or even more competitive than someone talking only about the numbers.

Paul S. Allen is chief executive of Wichita CPA and advisory firm Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, L.C.

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