The EAMA Perspective on Company Culture
Culture. Among the litany of seemingly empty corporate buzzwords bouncing around in the business world, “culture” is one of the most pervasive. If you’ve scrolled through your LinkedIn feed today, you’ve probably seen at least a few posts alluding to some aspect of “culture-building” or the benefits of good company culture, often as limp lip service to the addition of an office ping-pong table or the often-derided pizza party. But does culture actually have any tangible impact on how a company operates?
According to Julian Lute, a Strategic Advisor at Great Place to Work, company culture can be defined as “the sum of your formal and informal systems and behaviours and values, all of which create an experience for your employees and customers.” The norms of the office, in this regard, essentially dictate how the company wants to be seen both internally and externally. For example, when major institutions such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs made the decision to relax their dress codes to be more accepting of casual wear in the office, it was widely seen as a paradigm shift, with the traditional suit-and-tie culture of the workplace gradually shifting towards the chinos-and-plaid environments brought about throughout the rise of Silicon Valley.
The culture around the trades sector, on the other hand, carries both positive and negative connotations. The team here at EAMA, however, are out to set add a new layer to the meaning of culture within the trades. I sat down with our Human Resources team to discuss how EAMA’s culture has influenced their progression and growth within the company.
So you've been with us for a few months now, what were some of the aspects of the company that really cemented your interest in staying?
Toya Brooks (VP of Human Resources): Well, to be honest, as a woman of colour, the owner also being a person of colour was something I was intrigued by, as well as the fact that the company is employee-first. In the HR industry, a lot of times our work is centred on what’s best for the business instead of what’s best for the employees, so I was really excited that this company prioritized both.
Paul Lee (Director of People and Culture): The people for sure. It’s an interesting group we have here, and my goal is to bridge the gap between what we’re trying to achieve collectively in the office and the people who are out in the field dealing with our customers. That’s something I haven’t really dealt with in this industry before. Another factor is the general vibe of the office and the people working here. I’ve been welcomed by everyone here since day one, and it’s great to see so many people working towards a collective goal while also keeping morale and positivity high, especially during times where we’ve faced a lot of challenges and changes.
Emily Lloyd (HR Coordinator): The environment, the people, how welcoming and interested in my life everyone was. It was kind of like forming a friendship in that way, and I haven’t really experienced that at other places. People are actually invested in you, not for any ulterior motive or to hold it against you in any way.
Now you've not only had to handle staff overhauls, but also reorganize the company's processes and procedures, how has that been?
Toya: The biggest challenge wasn’t really the team, it was more so undoing and cleaning up things from the past before we could really get started. So while I’ve only been here a few months, we haven’t really fully undone some of the things we have to undo.
Paul: I think the important thing is to be aware of and sensitive to the culture that was already established before we all started, because there’s a fine line between moving the culture needle to where we want it to be and trying to erase the culture that already existed before we were all here. The pursuit of finding a positive culture that aligns with our company goals is going to get challenging at times, but it’s a necessary process. I’m confident that once we weed out these obstacles as we go through them, we’re going to establish a strong collective culture.
Emily: Paul’s great, he just naturally knows what people would and wouldn’t like, plus he’s got that natural ability to make people like him right away. Likewise, Toya can be very analytical, so he’s a perfect medium between both of us and a voice for everyone else too. It’s hard to have a new department, but it’s great to have people that care about each other and the people they work with. It’s so much easier to focus on culture with great people.
What are some of the main tenets or qualities that you’ve tried to promote as part of EAMA’s company culture?
Paul: You have to make people feel safe and you have to build trust. Those are two fundamental pillars that need to be established before you do anything else. If people don’t feel secure in their jobs or that they can’t provide honest feedback that we need to enact change – if they don’t feel safe – then two things will happen. You either get an answer that isn’t true, people just trying to keep the peace, or there will be dissension within the ranks. You’ll never hear about it but you’ll see it reflected in their work and their attitudes, because people will be in self-preservation mode. So that’s something we need to build on, establishing a sense of safety and trust, which leads to collaboration, which leads to people in different departments coming together holistically and saying, “these are our issues, this is something that we can see being fixed.”
Emily: Feedback is huge, that’s one thing I think a lot of people overlook - people just plan things, they don’t ask for feedback. I think letting people have a voice and being receptive to feedback and criticism is very important in that regard. Culture-building should be fun, not just forced. I feel like a lot of companies’ approach to culture is very, “we’re going to do this one fun thing and ignore you the rest of the time,” and we want to make sure this is an ongoing thing where people don’t feel that their environment is uptight or cold.
"Our company puts people first" is a line that a lot of companies like to put out, but can you compare or contrast how that sentiment is applied here given your previous work in the HR field?
Toya: EAMA really cares about culture. I’ve worked with other companies that “cared” about culture-building and it was like, “oh you’re drinking the Kool-Aid”, it was clearly very fake. The culture also wasn’t very inclusive, we were building a framework that mainly benefitted those at the top and everyone else was forgotten, which isn't the case here. Of course, the challenge here is that the office culture is very easy to build and foster, as opposed to the culture with the techs because they’re on the road.
Paul: Everyone likes to say the employees come first, but the proof would be in the pudding, especially when you look at and listen to what people have to say about their company, how they welcome others into the company, and the type of work that they produce. Yes, it’s a bit of a cutthroat industry and we have to turn a profit, but at the same time, we’re making sure that people are compensated well and there’s an open door policy. If anyone has issues, they are more than welcome to come speak to us. In some of the other industries I’ve worked in the challenge has been convincing upper management that the most valuable asset is human capital. Without people, you don’t have a business, and if you don’t take care of your people, that ripples out into everything else.
Can you comment on the impact of that from a client-facing perspective?
Toya: Happier employees are going to do better work. They’re more engaged and they’re going to be less likely to drag their feet in front of a client or mope. Our customers are more likely to receive a more engaged experience, or one that shows that they’re taken care of.
Emily: That’s the whole thing, right? If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, how are you supposed to sell our services to other people? It’s very clear to see when people are just going through the motions, or if you’re not super invested in what you’re selling or doing. When people know that they’re taken care of, I think that they naturally want to work harder.
What are some aspects of EAMA’s culture that you look forward to building on?
Toya: One, that we’re on the same team. That’s probably the main goal, what’s good for you is good for me and vice versa. Two, that the professional development of each individual is good for the company as a whole. I want to cultivate a culture where we see each other as a collective but there’s no jealousy or envy over anyone’s individual development. There’s enough recognition and opportunities for development for everyone.
Paul: The biggest thing about EAMA’s culture for me is transparency. On balance, everyone’s hardworking, and that’s something I want to see for our company as a whole. Doing so in an industry that is looked upon as divisive, as well – there’s an old saying that plumbers, HVAC techs, and electricians don’t get along. That’s just a running gag in the industry, and I hope that we are the exception. I’d like for us to be – not necessarily a case study for it – but to show the world that it doesn’t have to be that way, we can choose to be different, we can choose to be collaborative, and we can choose to have different departments that work together and don’t hate each other.
Emily: I’m excited to see how EAMA grows and with that, doing bigger and more fun things. As we’re building up the department, we’re trying to do more events and ask for more feedback, as well as involve more day-to-day culture-building initiatives. I’d also like to involve the techs more too. That’s hard with them being on the road, but it would be really nice to be more of a family that way.
On the topic of cohesion and working towards a common goal, there’s two branches to the company, there’s the people in the office and the people on the field. How can you make sure that we’re all aligned towards the same goal?
Toya: There’s more to it than that as well, there’s also Price [Plumbing and Heating] and EAMA, both have different cultures that we’re looking to merge. Paul is actually going out with the techs, and currently a lot of my focus is on the electricians and how to make them feel more appreciated and also able to do their job more effectively. We do have ideas on how to improve this, but we also don’t want it to just be from the top. We want to have feedback from them as well, which is why Paul’s going out, to get their insights on what they like or don’t like. We’re trying to open lines of communication with the techs so that they’re able to voice their concerns and be heard, and we’re able to shape our initiatives based on whatever they’re concerned about.
Paul: As I said before, techs are our customer-facing branch and they represent our brand. Now from speaking to some of them, I do know that they feel there is a disconnect between the office and the field – that’s through no fault of our own, it’s just that their work is outside, so there’s not a lot of layover time or interaction happening. So it’s about creating opportunities and forums for the two groups to get to know each other as people first, before we even get to a business level. Overall though, there just needs to be a better line of communication between the office and the techs, but the onus falls on the individual.
Emily: I think it’s really about communication. People almost assume that because the techs are out all day that they don’t want to be involved in anything, but when we reach out and ask what they would appreciate and what would be best for them, they want to be included in these things. So it’s really all about reaching out and letting them know that we want them involved in our culture and it’s not just for the people in the office.
Now on a broader scale, the concept of “company culture” itself is often seen as a bit of a buzzword as opposed to something sincere. How do you think that our company’s approach to culture-building subverts that idea?
Toya: It’s not a buzzword at EAMA, and that’s because we tailor our support to our employees. Whereas a company might have one support that caters to the more senior staff or those in higher positions, we tailor our support to a department or even to a specific employee.
Paul: There are corporations that say they put employees and culture first, they might even have employee engagement programs and all these things, but people aren’t stupid. They can feel whether something is genuine or not. One of the big things for us is, how genuine are we as a group in pushing that people-first approach? How well do we actually connect with people? A lot of the time, corporations will have a bottom line and they don’t have the patience, time, or resources to really commit to building culture. I’ve been specifically commissioned to do that, and there’s very few companies that will pay somebody like me to focus on helping people develop within the organization. Time will tell and the people will decide whether I’ve been able to do that, and hopefully by the end of the year, this company will look drastically different.
Emily: *laughs* I hate the pizza party mentality. I think it’s less of a chore and more of a daily habit of focusing on everybody, treating everyone how you’d like to be treated, doing check-ins regularly, doing things that make people feel appreciated. We want you to enjoy your time here and not just be in that cycle of “I’m coming here to work and go home”. It’s really about changing that “me, myself, and I” mentality to a collective one. Not forcing it down anybody’s throat but letting them know that we’re there for them.
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