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Creating Strong Company Culture Starts with Asking Better Questions

Chief people officer says connections at work reduce staff turnover

A group of people talking in an office.

​Don't ask your co-workers how their weekend was. It could kill your company's culture. And don't ask, "How's it goin'?" either.

Strong culture is critical for a company's survival, especially given the Great Resignation that many organizations are experiencing today.

Peter Lynch, chief people officer at The Cardinal Group, a multifamily housing company, addressed how to build a positive culture at the recent MFE Conference in Las Vegas for commercial real estate companies.

Lynch should know; his company has consistently had a quarterly employee turnover rate of less than 7 percent, while the national average for his industry is about 20 percent. His company has seen a 40 percent annual increase in resumes received. The Cardinal Group is considered one of the industry's best companies to work for.

One reason for its success is that its people—including its leaders—ask better questions.

"Don't walk in Monday morning and immediately say to a person you pass in the hallway, 'So, how was your weekend?' Naturally, they will be inclined to say, 'Good' or 'Fine.' That's not good enough," Lynch said.

"Try, 'So, what was your favorite part of the weekend?' This will get them to open up and share. Get ready for a lengthy response, with tons of details. Here, you've made a real connection because you asked a better question."

Those connections are what help to build a happy workforce, one of congeniality and decency, said Lynch, a noted Fortune 500 global executive in talent management, operations, change management, diversity and inclusion, and communications, as well as a TED Talk speaker and author of HR-related books. Creating strong culture leads to better employee performance, he told attendees. "You win the marketplace when you win the workplace."

Lynch also spoke about the importance of creating a culture that allows for failure. "There are a lot of companies out there that say, 'We have a culture of innovation,' yet when I ask them if they've ever failed, they say, 'No.' That's not possible," he said. "You can't truly be innovative if you've never failed."

Seeking Decency

Lynch said a "decade of decency" in the workplace and society is coming. He can feel it.

"You look around a lot today and you see that we, as a people, have forgotten how to have a sane conversation," he said. People are defensive, or they hold back. Everyone is afraid to offend. But people are also looking for connections.

Lynch offered a story of hope. He recounted a time when he posted a picture of himself on social media and a stranger commented with a put-down about Lynch's big forehead. Instead of responding in anger, Lynch agreed with the person's assessment, made a self-deprecating comment about himself and began an online dialogue.

"Today, that person is one of my most engaged followers, all because we had a real online conversation," Lynch said.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.


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