The Corner Office

Changing Work Culture


While managing different companies over the years, I learned a few tricks with onboarding new employees. One of my favorites could help a lot of people in the coming months.

When my organization had a new employee who I didn’t get a chance to interview during the hiring process, I would find a time to talk one-on-one with them shortly after they started. I’d talk to them a bit, shake their hand, and I always asked for one favor: “Work with me to make this the company we want to work for.”

I received more than a few strange looks, but I would remind them that throughout the hiring process, they were asking their own questions. When they agreed to join the team, they must have had some expectations of what it would be like to work here.

I encouraged them to hold onto those expectations, because inevitably they were going to run into odd company culture, contrary policies, and everything else that makes a business less than ideal. Something was going to come up, and it was my hope that they would remember that they worked here too, and they had a valuable perspective on what needed improving.

Because once someone settles into their role and the organization, they’re not really going to be motivated to change the company culture. Somewhere along the way, they forget the expectations they had on that first day. But I knew that changing the culture could start with one person, provided that one person had fresh eyes and a vested interest in making the company a good place to work.

Sadly, I had worked at that company for a long time, so I wasn’t qualified for that task. But I could do my part by being a higher-up that they could voice concerns to, and in that way, we could all fulfill our mutual responsibility of making the organization pleasant to work for.

My goal was never to encourage tattling, but to encourage new employees to take ownership of their part in our company culture. Eventually, most people end up having thoughts like “This place sucks” or “This place is stupid.” But if that person had been given a chance to do something about it, they own part of that responsibility, and that can motivate someone to point out the bad parts of culture that don’t make sense.

So, why am I talking about all this now?

Last year, we set national records for unemployment rates, but we are now quickly seeing a stark increase in employment rates across the country. In January 2020, the U.S. was considered nearly fully employed, meaning that most people who wanted jobs had them, even if they weren’t their ideal jobs.

That changed in a heartbeat with the coronavirus pandemic, but there are signs that it may change back almost as quickly. While unemployment is not quite in the single digits like it was in January 2020, part of the cause could be that significant numbers of people are choosing not to return to work. There are a variety of potential causes: concerns about COVID-19 safety at work, not being able to receive vaccinations, taking care of older family members, and not wanting to “risk it,” etc.

Whatever the reason, a lot of people are making these types of choices right now. Even as they return to the workforce, my prediction (and something we’re already starting to see) is that there are going to be many more positions than there are people to fill them. If you want to attract candidates in a market like this, then you simply have to offer them more.

I’m a member of a Facebook group of small business owners, and lately I’ve seen an influx of posts about how everyone needs people, but they can’t hire at their old rates, and it’s all but impossible to even get people to show up for interviews. This message is being echoed again and again throughout small businesses around America, and it clearly shows that the applicants are in control right now. So, what are you doing to make your business a place that they want to work?

Look around your office. Is this a place you can honestly see people wanting to work at? If not, then what has to change to get you to that position? Ask your managers, ask your staff, and ask the new people that are coming in and contributing to your business. There are a lot of options out there, and if your business isn’t a place where people want to be, then they won’t.

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at

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