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How to create a fantastic work culture: “Create meaning for your staff.” with Paul McDonald and Chaya Weiner

Create meaning for staff. Let employees know how important they are by investing in their career at your company. Assign them interesting and meaningful projects, and provide ample opportunities for collaboration with colleagues. Carve career paths by providing the tools and training to advance. Be sure to say thank you for a job well done. […]

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Create meaning for staff. Let employees know how important they are by investing in their career at your company. Assign them interesting and meaningful projects, and provide ample opportunities for collaboration with colleagues. Carve career paths by providing the tools and training to advance. Be sure to say thank you for a job well done. When workers receive positive reinforcement, they’re likely to return the favor, and morale and productivity increase.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul McDonald. Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half (NYSE: RHI), which specializes in the placement of professionals in the accounting and finance, technology, legal, creative and administrative fields. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired. McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald became senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After studying to become an accountant for four years, earning my bachelor’s degree and practicing in the field for three years, I wanted to try something new. I felt pulled toward a more entrepreneurial path. I thought sales, specifically, is where I could gain that experience and flex those muscles, but instead, came across an opportunity in staffing and recruiting. That’s when I kind of fell into this career. I’ve been here ever since — 35 years now — and loved it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Robert Half has grown and changed tremendously over the years. Thirty-five years ago, the company was a $40 million business. We’ve since gone public, opened many offices, acquired businesses and expanded on ideas. Every step of the way, it truly has been the entrepreneurial experience I sought in the early days of my career. That’s what has been so interesting.

Quite frankly, though, the greatest benefit is the level of gratification that comes from helping others find new positions and change their lives, and from helping companies find great people and enhance their businesses.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Over the past five years, I’ve been working on Robert Half’s Veterans Initiative and been thrilled to see the program grow. It’s extremely rewarding to help veterans and their families transition from military to civilian life. Our firm provides not only veterans themselves, but also their family members, with coaching on important steps toward a successful career, like how to write a great resume and ace an interview. This segment of the workforce has done so much for our country, and we’re proud to give back through this initiative as they set down roots in a new chapter of their lives.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

A 50/50 proposition for worker happiness across businesses tells me that companies are applying varying levels of focus to employee satisfaction, and there’s a lot of work to be done. While not every approach will work for every employee, organizations need to look closely at workplace culture, especially in today’s competitive hiring environment with low unemployment and high turnover. From the board room to the staff room, a shared vision and mission is essential. Every manager needs to understand how each of their workers is affected by the corporate culture and contributes to the organization’s success. It takes time to make improvements, but what choice do companies have? It may seem a monumental task in the beginning, but over time improving the workplace environment and employee experience will increase net profits by increasing productivity and reducing turnover.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Stress at work has been proven to medically impact individuals’ mental and physical health, which can seriously hamper productivity and morale. Based on my own experience, strict top-down environments create negative stress and cause turnover, illnesses and more. Employers should do everything they can to help employees move through stress.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1) Enhance communication. Practice effective communication with your employee base through a variety of methods, such as video, print and town hall meetings. Since its very early days, Robert Half’s leaders have been very good at sharing their vision for the company and creating a positive workplace culture by offering companywide town hall-type meetings, employee publications and surveys of staff. Directly from leadership, we learned about where the company was going and what we could do to impact the business through our individual actions — very motivating. It’s invaluable. I highly recommend this strategy to any organization.

2) Conduct regular audits and staff check-ins. If you don’t know what isn’t working, you can’t make necessary changes. Quick, regular check-ins with staff can do a lot to improve employee satisfaction. Asking, “How are you doing?” and how the organization can help them achieve their goals shows that organizational leadership cares. If you’re hearing that the workload is unmanageable, consider bringing in additional support, whether full-time, interim or consulting professionals, to provide relief.

3) Address personnel issues promptly and professionally. If someone is not a good fit within your organization — whether they’re disruptive or a drag on morale — that has a negative impact on corporate culture. If you don’t address this in a proactive manner, more problems will arise down the road. Seek coaching from your company’s human resources department for tips on how to best address these issues.

4) Create meaning for staff. Let employees know how important they are by investing in their career at your company. Assign them interesting and meaningful projects, and provide ample opportunities for collaboration with colleagues. Carve career paths by providing the tools and training to advance. Be sure to say thank you for a job well done. When workers receive positive reinforcement, they’re likely to return the favor, and morale and productivity increase.

5) Make work-life balance a priority. This is top-of-mind for professionals. Cultivate a workplace culture that allows employees the flexibility to maintain a healthy quality of life. Many companies now offer flexible work arrangements, including remote work, so staff can spend productive time accomplishing high-value projects without having to compromise their wellbeing for a long commute or rigid schedule.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

It’s been a journey over my 33 years as a manager or executive. In the beginning, my leadership style was, “Work as hard as possible,” and “Do as I say.” That wasn’t very effective, as you might imagine. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve learned to be a highly communicative and collaborative leader. It’s important to me that my team understands where we’re going, what we need to do to get there and the importance of their own role in the process. In today’s workplace, there are highlighted differences across generations, and individuals have unique styles and personalities. Managers need to be dynamic and empathetic, and give people the tools to be successful no matter their differences.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of the first managers I had in public accounting taught me a very good lesson early in my career. At that time, I was in the habit of asking a question and being given an explanatory answer. I asked this particular manager a question expecting to be told how to do something, but instead, he said, “What do you think?” Boy, was it frustrating! As a result, however, I got into analytical thinking and problem solving. I began to take pride in seeking answers on my own. This approach also motivates workers. When colleagues come to me with questions, I like to ask for their recommendations and hear their ideas.

Also, although I can’t attribute this to one specific person, a pivotal time in my career came when I stumbled upon the importance of soft skills. Beginning with my first job as a caddy when I was in high school, I learned a lot about leadership by observing and emulating those people who were supervising me on how they would lead, present and achieve their goals. A few years later while I was in college, my accounting internship fell through. I had to find other work to pay my tuition, so I took a job as a tour guide around Niagara Falls. That experience helped me develop the ability to communicate with individuals of different backgrounds, as well as strong presentation and public speaking skills. It’s not easy being heard over thousands of tons of raging water! Those skills are still essential to my career today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I love giving back by coaching — sharing life’s lessons that I’ve learned through my work as a recruiter and staffing firm executive. I’m passionate about making a difference for individuals who are stuck in their career, as well as aspiring and early career professionals. I’m involved with student organizations like Enactus and Beta Alpha Psi, and I speak to students at St. Bonaventure’s, where I went to school. I’ve hired a lot of people over the years, so I like to say I “have an advanced degree in people.” It’s people, human capital that make businesses run, and the sooner organizational leaders understand that, the more successful their organization can become.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Work hard, play hard.” When I think of the best organizations, everyone’s working hard and they know where the business is going, but they also know how to play hard. Whatever engages your mind completely away from your work will refresh you and make you a better person — and better people achieve more in life. That was taught to me back when I was a kid with two great examples at home. My parents both worked very hard for our family and knew how to “play hard” when it was time to unwind.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If everybody could have enough humility balanced with a nice tempered ego — a healthy ego is important for mental health and wellbeing — to move away from fear and instead be willing to take risks and try new things, I think we’d be surprised at how much we could accomplish. Fear brings so many people down. Don’t let unbridled fear keep you from reaching your goals. I’ve seen people achieve great things when they pushed themselves out of their comfort zones. There’s a key takeaway for managers here, too: Help people take risks. Assure them you support them and their ideas. Give them the tools they need to succeed.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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