Many factors contribute to business excellence, but all are underpinned by having happy, engaged employees who are committed – and empowered – to deliver excellent customer service.

At the recent NZBEF Performance Excellence conference, I was impressed with Bernard Powell’s presentation about Premier Group International’s journey to creating an ‘epic workplace culture’.

With about 60 employees, New Zealand owned and operated Premier Group International provides high-quality brick, paving and landscape solutions for local and export markets, producing and around 200 tonnes products every day.

Whereas most workplace transformation projects focus very much on employees’ relationships with (and within) the organisation, Premier Group used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as their culture transformation framework and started by asking employees what their goal in life was.

Everyone is looking for a higher purpose in life and want to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves, even when working.

Full-time employees spend over one-third of their waking hours at work so everybody wins when the company culture facilitates alignment between personal and organisational goals.

In his presentation, Bernard shared many inspirational steps the company had taken in its employee engagement journey. Here are some that I think organisational development and L&D professionals could learn from, and be doing more of to better support their own workplaces.

1. Eliminate class distinctions and take a ‘wholearchical’ rather than hierarchical approach by making everyone an owner and encouraging them to contribute to its success.

Premier Group did this in many ways, including holding daily stand-up team meetings that always include a topic that directly relates to one of their core values. Instead of team leaders chairing the meetings, all team members take turns. At first people felt uncomfortable but creating a friendly, welcoming environment saw them open up and their leadership skills blossom.

2. Create an exciting vision and ‘change the world’ mission. Post up mission, values and beliefs everywhere. At least one value is discussed at each daily stand-up meeting. Walk the talk!

3. Instead of asking employees “how can we make you happier at work”, find out what would make them happier in life. Explore how to link their life goals to their work goals. For example, if someone’s life goal is to own their home then their work goals would most likely be around skill development and career progression – show them how to make it happen.

4. Have fun at work. In Premier Group’s case, employees were allowed to personalise their workspaces so long as it was workable, affordable and acceptable. There are some delightful results, including a Pink Panther fork-lift painted in a pink jungle-print pattern!

5. Ensure there is lots of positive reinforcement while still holding people accountable for their own performance. Achieving employee engagement requires allowing people to make mistakes and, when this happens, conducting autopsies that are free of excuses or blame.

6. Foster personal and career progression within the organisation. Premier Group does this in a number of ways, including by hiring from within where possible and also getting employees to write their own job descriptions. Align recruitment processes with company values.

It was refreshing to hear about such an inclusive and successful approach to employee engagement. Maybe it’s time for OD and L&D professionals to look at our own approaches and ask ourselves what more we can be doing to encourage our organisations to truly engage their workforce.

Premier Group’s Mission is to:

Deliver Happiness!
Create Raving Fans!
Beautify Our World!

They are definitely walking the talk.