I Wanted To Quit My Own Company

May 23, 2018

amnet team“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a quote often attributed to Peter Drucker.  It means that your best strategies will be destroyed by a bad culture.

Good or bad, your company has a culture.  Did you arrive at your culture intentionally, or did it just happen?  For the team at Amnet, up until 2012, it just happened.  We had grown from one tech (me) to a 15-person IT service provider.  We grew on our reputation of quality and service, but within the organization, things were no longer working well and it wasn’t fun anymore.  I wanted to quit my own company.  The last straw was when our dysfunctional culture resulted in dropped balls that cost us one of our largest, and one of my favorite clients.  We deserved to lose their business and I was just sick about it.

You may have heard the Italian Proverb, “The fish rots from the head.”  Well, I was the head of the fish because it was my company.  I was determined to stop the rotting.

Fall of 2012 I called a team meeting to address our culture.  I asked the team to brainstorm some words reflecting what they wanted Amnet’s culture to be.  They said: symphonic, accountable, and fun. Then I asked them to describe our culture as it was.  They said: frantic, blaming, and frustrating.

So, I asked: “How do we get there from here, and who’s willing to commit to do what it takes to make it happen?”

With intentionality, we began our journey towards a positive company culture.  Behavioral standards were set and enforced. We were committed to how we hired and why we fired.

Some people self-selected out. Others, we selected for them. Fast forward 5 1/2 years, Amnet was recently named a “Best Workplace” and one of the “Best Companies to Work For” in Colorado.  We’re also a finalist in “Colorado Companies to Watch.”

The result of a good culture includes happier customers.  We’ve been selected as the Best IT Support Company by the readers of the CSBJ and honored for our “Excellence in Customer Service” by the BBB.

Q12: How the turnaround started

Gallup performs an annual survey of employee engagement called the Q12.  Their 2017 State of the Workplace Study states that overall, US Employee Engagement are as follows: 33% Engaged, 51% Not Engaged, 16% Actively Disengaged.

You can’t have a great culture when 2/3 of your team is either disengaged or actively disengaged.  Working on culture without first addressing engagement would be putting the cart before the horse.  We set out to boost our engagement by getting rid of our actively disengaged people and engaging those not engaged by gradually implementing solutions to answer each of Gallup’s 12 questions.  Those questions are:

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

How would your team answer these questions?  In 2012 I wasn’t proud of our results.  Today I’m confident in and proud of our scores.  It was a difficult journey with plenty of missteps, but it was absolutely worth it.  I love our team, and work at Amnet is fun again- for all of us.

Culture is more efficient than strategy.

According to the 2017 Gallup report, when compared to businesses in the bottom quartile of engagement, those in the top quartile realize benefits in the following areas:

  • 41% lower absenteeism
  • 24% lower turnover
  • 17% higher productivity
  • 70% fewer employee safety incidents
  • 20% higher sales
  • 41% fewer quality incidents

What strategy could you employ that would gain these results?  A 17% boost in productivity should be reason enough for your most important strategy to be to focus on your culture.  You may need to start like we did, with your employee engagement.

Once we improved our engagement, the steps we took at Amnet to have a great culture will not fit into my 800 word limit of this article, but I will be writing future articles describing what we’ve done.  But please don’t wait for those articles to get started.