Workplace culture and employee development 

What’s the connection between engaged and empowered employees and workplace culture? In our 15thSharing Knowledge Series episode, host Kevin Vonderau, chief lending officer at Westfield Bank, is joined by guests Mike Toth, president & CEO of Westfield Bank, Mike Milby, CEO of Ratliff & Taylor, a talent management consultancy, and Beth Sweeney, president of Ratliff & Taylor to discuss the wide-ranging topic of workplace culture, leadership, and employee development. 

Below are some of the key takeaways from the conversation with Kevin and our guests. Watch or listen to the full episode here to learn more.

What is culture?

Beth calls this the million-dollar question - according to her, it’s about connecting your values and your belief system to your behaviors. Understanding how an organization makes decisions and gets work done is the starting point for Ratliff & Taylor to be able to articulate what their culture is. 

Culture is what helps build the bridge between the mission of the organization and how the teams execute on the mission, adds Mike Toth. Culture is important because it’s how a company attracts and keeps talented employees.

Does a company’s culture come from the leadership at the top or is it created from the employees? Mike Milby says it varies, but from what he’s seen it’s mostly the CEO who owns the culture and then the employees reflect the culture. If the leader of an organization is not being intentional about defining and living the culture, then the employees will end up owning it. Beth also stresses the importance of an organization’s leader being intentional about creating a culture. Mike Toth’s view is that a culture doesn’t exist without employees. Employees must want to be a part of the culture and in some cases, they shape what the culture is like. 

What happens when a company needs to change culture?

Once an organization has concluded that change needs to take place, it’s imperative that the change stays in line with its mission and values. The what and the why must also be identified, and then that’s followed by modeling how the culture change will be implemented. Employees will fill in the blanks if specifics aren’t implemented by an organization. It’s often the little and consistent things that go a long way, the guests agree.

“If you’re all thinking the same, then nobody is thinking at all,” is a common saying at Westfield Bank. Mike Toth also understands that he must listen to his employees as his company undergoes certain changes. There’s no better way to understand the voice of the employees than actively seeking out their input. Listening allows leaders to realize that initiatives like increasing diversity and inclusion are in the best interest of not only their company, but of the larger community.   

Impacts of the pandemic on culture

Companies shifting to work from home has had a nuanced effect on culture. Organizations have had to figure out how to maintain their culture when some or all employees aren’t working in the office all the time. Leaders also have the challenge of figuring out how to promote and develop employees who they might not often see in person. 

Employers need to be careful to not expect those working from home to be attentive to work responsibilities after typical hours, which has tended to happen in the remote work setting. Companies with remote workers also need to be mindful of what needs each employee has and make sure to check in on them, as this might not happen as much when you’re not in the office. Physical and mental wellbeing must be prioritized regardless of the work setting, and factors like access to internet and having children at home ought to be considered.

Empowering employees

Mike Milby says that empowerment is just as important as maintaining the right culture. What does this mean? It’s about employees feeling that they have the space to make certain decisions without fear of making mistakes or being wrong about something. “Emotional safety” is how Beth describes employees not being afraid to innovate and take risks.

As a new CEO, Mike Toth acknowledges the challenge he faces around empowerment. He has to balance being accountable for everything that happens under his watch while also giving his employees the space to grow and pursue new ideas.

The role of leadership training

“It’s critical to the ongoing success of the organization,” Mike Toth says. Westfield Bank has partnered with Ratliff & Taylor to identify the leadership attributes that are important to the bank on a long-term basis. Leadership can be taught if the participants have a strong willingness to learn.

Watch or listen to the full 15th episode of the Sharing Knowledge Series