Why did he quit? Ask the person who sat next to him

When business psychologist Kelly Reed spoke on “Winning Workplace Cultures,” she admitted at the outset of her presentation that “what works for some organizations many completely fall flat for another.”

That’s why most of the meeting convened by the Kansas City Area Development Council consisted of human resource specialists telling each other what seems to work for them.

 ‘Me, too,’ is not a strategy” to attract and keep good workers, Reed said. No organization can copy a corporate culture template from a “best places to work” winner and expect it to produce identical results. But based on research and interviews conducted by her consulting organization, CMA, Reed said there are two truisms:

▪ Workplace culture must start at the top and be fully embraced by an organization’s leadership that walks the talk.

▪ And what the organization says its culture is must match what people say or feel about their workplace.

It’s tough, Reed said, for the upper eschelon of management to get a clear picture of rank-and-file thoughts or feelings. There are too many filters. Too many cautions. And it’s not even reliable to use exit interviews from people who leave the organization.

Rather, she suggested, find out what a departing worker’s peers say about the reasons why the person left. Departing employees may not be honest in exit interviews, but their peers know, she said.

Short of doing damage control after losing key talent, there are some basic bits of advice for organizations that want to emulate the disciplines of “best places.” Reed summarized:

1. Create a clear and consistent story about the organization’s mission, values and strategy.

2. Make sure all employees know how they contribute to or “live out” that story.

3. Encourage constant communication with employees and open-door or two-way feedback.

4. Make employees feel trusted, respected and recognized for their contributions.

There was another major point — on which some of the human resource officers in attendance concurred — an employee ownership plan is one of the best motivators and contributors to an effective corporate culture.

When employees understand that what each of them does every day makes a difference to the bottom line and their own rewards, they have strong incentive to do their best, one attendee said.

Human resource people also need to remind top officers and directors that they can’t just focus on making stockholders happy. They have to cultivate their workforces, too, another participant said.

And this from a third guest: When interviewing job applicants, ask questions to find out if the candidate has done things to nurture the careeers of peers or those below in the workplace hierarchy.

Apple polishers who fashion their work lives primarily to make bosses happy aren’t likely to have the character most needed in strong, collegial, team-committed workplaces.

Workers who help make the whole team, the whole organization, shine are the keepers.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford