CEO Aron Ain reports that his company, Kronos, a global provider of workforce management solutions, goes beyond rhetoric to show how it depends on great people at every level. Ain calls his firm’s culture “WorkInspired,” based on three foundations: character, competence and collaboration. This strategy earned Kronos a place on its industry’s coveted best-employers lists. Ain emphasizes exercising humility, trust and gratitude with respect for the whole person, not just the employee. His book depicts an inspiring example of what’s possible in shaping corporate culture.
- Embrace humility and become an “Un-Leader.”
- Trust your employees, and they will trust you.
- To optimize employee engagement, managers need to be accountable and to communicate their strategies.
- Have fun and be authentic.
- Take care of the whole person, not just the employee.
- Build safety and respect into your organization at every level and across the world.
- Welcome back your “boomerang” employees.
- Challenge your assumptions. To stay innovative, encourage disruption.
- Invest in the next generation, and help create tomorrow’s leaders.
Embrace humility and become an “Un-Leader.”
When leaders and managers rely on titles to secure respect from employees, their personal impact drops. Successful leaders are Un-Leaders, people who base their leadership on humility, not status. Humble leaders inspire employees to open up about their concerns, thus fostering trust and better communication.
“We’re committed to treating people as human beings, addressing a broad set of financial and emotional needs, so that employees feel both empowered and inspired to do their best.”
As a leader, you can nurture a culture of humility by being a role model. Having humility means putting the customer and company first and your personal agenda second. Set high standards, present clear expectations and imbue your policies with a humble ethic.
Honest communications fuel a successful corporate culture. Chat with your staff members, no matter what their job titles, so they can ask you questions, give you input and address issues. Visiting with employees enables you to get to know their interests and their families.
“Leaders and managers need to make a company’s family-first philosophy personal, affirming and modeling it with their own words and actions.”
Rely on your firm’s other leaders and managers and on mass communication, such as social media. Kronos, the author’s firm, takes employee surveys to gauge the pulse of its workforce and to identify and address problem areas. When employees see their leaders taking action, they feel cared for and recognized, which encourages them to communicate candidly.
Trust your employees, and they will trust you.
The people in your workforce can accomplish much more when you don’t micromanage them or look over their shoulders. Trust them. Assume they are competent and accountable. You can’t make your employees trust you. You have to trust them first. Hire people you trust to be independent.
“Because we place so much faith in employees, they return the favor, placing a remarkable degree of trust in us.”
Kronos values three core employee traits: character, competence and collaboration, but trust is the primary factor in its culture. Infuse trust into your company’s policies, and teach managers to incorporate it as elemental to their teams. Let go of micromanaging, fear, anxiety and control. Focus on what really builds success: innovation.
To optimize employee engagement, managers need to be accountable and to communicate their strategies.
The best employees would rather have a bad job with a good manager than a great job with a lousy manager. Half of American employees who leave their jobs cite their boss as the reason for their departure.
“At Kronos, I think of myself as the kibitzer in chief, and I recommend kibitzing to you as a powerful means of building a more engaged and inspired team or workforce.”
Accountability, in the form of performance metrics and benchmarking, is essential to good management. Kronos launched its Courage to Lead program alongside a corporate transformation that happened at about the same time. Courage to Lead featured an intensive drive to encourage managers to be bold and humble, challenging yet supportive, and disruptive while engaging with employees. The company created and began to use the “Manager Effectiveness Index” assessment metric with the main goal of engendering an atmosphere that fueled ongoing improvement.
“It’s harder to convince employees to take chances on good ideas if you’re not doing so yourself.”
To inspire your employees to produce great work and to trust their managers and leaders, make sure they understand and participate in corporate strategizing. At Kronos, the annual retreat takes months of planning so participants can get to “the truth” of their business. This means asking hard questions and letting go of strategies that no longer work.
“Galvanize people to take risks and present new ideas. Invest in those ideas, and execute on them. Be bold. Take risks. Experiment. Put yourself out of business!”
Once you devise a strategy, find the resources for it. Otherwise, your strategy will sound like empty jargon. Communicate your strategy to your employees, especially after you put money behind it. Managers and team leaders should disseminate the strategy through the ranks, reminding employees how their individual roles contribute to the greater good.
Have fun, and be authentic.
Include relaxing, enjoyable areas to spend time throughout your workplace. Kronos has a “we” space that offers swings, a smoothie bar and a library. Designate a recreational committee to come up with fun ideas for events and contests.
“We try to keep it fun and also to ‘keep it real’ – to evoke a sense of authenticity at work.”
Employees should feel that they can be themselves; leaders must be role models and project authenticity. If you’re an honest, open, authentic leader, your employees will trust you and share their thoughts and concerns about the company.
Rewards motivate people. Kronos allocates 40% of its performance assessment to how well an employee embodies “character, competence and collaboration.” Staffers who don’t treat their colleagues with respect face negative consequences. To demonstrate caring effectively, leaders must communicate with their employees. When someone in your company is going through a crisis, reach out personally. Even the smallest kind gesture makes a big difference.
Take care of the whole person, not just the employee.
Few organizations nourish a culture that takes care of the entire person, not merely the employee. Altruism helped Kronos become a billion-dollar company. Altruism doesn’t cost anything. Leaders and managers must demonstrate the principle that family comes first by embracing it themselves.
“If you want to maintain high engagement levels, then you must empower workers to prioritize their families and bring their whole selves to work.”
Kronos believes employees should bring their entire selves to work to inspire engagement and joy. This means the firm prioritizes families and provides tools to facilitate the work-life balance every family needs. In 2016, the company created its MyTime program to manage flexible scheduling and to create an infrastructure that permits working remotely. That became its most profitable year ever. Employee satisfaction reached 87%.
“It’s critical to recognize people for their professional accomplishments and personal milestones.”
Appreciating your employees’ achievements maintains high morale. When people don’t receive praise, they seek employment elsewhere. Create a culture that promotes gratitude by setting up forums for employees to thank one another, allowing employees opportunities to thank their managers, offering public recognition and giving bonuses to employees who refer new hires. Personal appreciation from the company’s leaders remains the most valued recognition of all. People want to feel that their company values them, and it’s empowering for leaders to deliver that message.
Build safety and respect into your organization at every level and across the world.
After the contentious 2016 US presidential election, some Kronos employees in China and Mexico as well as in the United States worried about the future. They needed reassurance that, regardless of the external political situation, Kronos cared for and respected them. For workers to engage and be productive, they need to feel secure, so foster a safe culture.
“People look to the person in charge for guidance, assistance, affirmation and, yes, appreciation. They want to feel valued. And you, more than anyone else, can provide that.”
When you need to communicate with your staff members about external events, such as a hurricane or terrorist attack, or internal events, such as upcoming layoffs, be honest and direct. In a crisis, interact face-to-face as much as possible. Build safety into your organizational policies, and solicit input from employees when a big change approaches – such as relocating the head office or acquiring a new subsidiary.
“In your capacity as a manager or leader, invest aggressively in developing your people, but don’t hoard your talent and stigmatize employees for leaving.”
Respect for other cultures is part of safety. Some leaders fear that when their company expands its international reach, they will lose employee engagement. They worry other cultures might water down their corporate culture. To allay that concerrn, incorporate new people with respect and open-mindedness. If the head office doesn’t provide the policies and procedures that employees in China or India need, the company must trust its local managers and leaders to devise the necessary strategies.
“We don’t win awards for our charitable efforts because we write bigger checks, but because we make sure that every dollar we do spend makes the maximum difference, both for communities and for us.”
Both new and veteran employees need to feel safe from discrimination based on race, faith, gender or sexual orientation. Everyone should understand the importance of family – their own and the corporate family to which they belong. Provide opportunities for employees to go abroad and meet their counterparts in other countries. As a leader, make trips to international offices and participate in their local customs.
“If there’s one principle that has helped Kronos create an engaging culture in which people can feel inspired about their work, it’s humility.”
Kronos recognizes that diversity and inclusion are works in progress – especially in the tech industry, where diversity remains an issue. For instance, more women should hold executive positions. With time, patience and courage, every company can offer what the best families provide: safety, respect and care.
Welcome back your “boomerang” employees.
Keep an open mind regarding recruitment, development and retention. Don’t hold grudges when employees take new opportunities, and don’t make them feel bad when they ask to come back. Some staffers left Kronos for personal reasons. After their circumstances changed, those boomerang workers wanted t0 return after finding that their new employers didn’t live up to their expectations.
Sometimes, boomerangs are former staff members you laid off during a downturn. Periodically, when Kronos has had to lay off staff, it often re-recruited former employees when jobs again became available. Many former staffers accepted the offers with no hard feelings.
Rehiring former employees acknowledges that the workforce is constantly in flux, especially now, with technology diversifying employment opportunities. It’s good for ambitious people to see what it’s like out in the job market. If they return, they bring new knowledge and experience. If your employees succeed in new jobs elsewhere after you invested heavily in their skills, remember that you don’t own their careers.
Challenge your assumptions. To stay innovative, encourage disruption.
Most companies at the top of their game don’t want to meddle with their own success out of fear of doing harm. But letting your firm stagnate is foolhardy, especially since competition in innovation is so fierce. Anticipating what factors could disrupt your success requires thinking ahead.
In 2013, Kronos allocated $5 million to a team of disrupters and instructed them to put the company out of business. The result was Workforce Dimensions, a fully integrated cloud-based platform based on the cutting-edge technology of the time. The most important take-away is that you should give employees opportunities to innovate, take risks and put their personal stamp on the business.
Invest in the next generation, and help create tomorrow’s leaders.
Kronos embraced the idea that businesses have a moral imperative to foster the next generation. It established its GiveInspired corporate social responsibility program with a mandate to train and develop students in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) through educational programs worldwide. Examples include ongoing youth development programs in conjunction with Boys & Girls Clubs and the United Way. Kronos created special grants, such as one at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell (UMass), to fund students’ creation of a suite of programming tools for the company. Kronos also offers internships at competitive pay and gives UMass students real, meaningful projects they can do to build their skills and prepare to join the workforce.
As part of its company culture, Kronos encourages its staff members to volunteer for charities to foster giving back. Volunteering teaches compassion, and employees learn a lot about themselves. Supporting volunteerism aligns with Kronos’s broader mandate to be a company that cares about all people.
Some companies send mixed signals about the importance of volunteer work. They say they support employee engagement but not at the expense of the work the employees do for the company. Kronos invests heavily in the next generation – a philanthropic decision inextricable from the way it does business.
Every goodwill gesture, however small, has the potential to transform how you work. It starts with trusting your employees, investing in the next generation, and being open-minded and caring. Developing a strategy based on people takes a long time. But when you succeed in fostering a corporate culture in which your employees dedicate themselves to their work, you accomplish more than reaching your business goals. You improve lives, and there is no more worthy goal.
About the Author
Aron Ain is the CEO of Kronos, a global provider of workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. Based on employee reviews, Ain is a multiyear recipient of Glassdoor’s highest-rated CEO honor. Among others, Fortune magazine has named Kronos as a top place to work.