Steve Csuka stepped into the CEO seat of Avaap, a 500-person management consulting company, during the pandemic. Despite market forces, a global pandemic, organization changes, and a culture that faced an unrelenting test of resilience, he led a brand reset, aligning people around “one team, one dream, one goal,” to build a cohesive, impactful culture.
Even before he held the CEO role, Steve Csuka prioritized people potential. Active in the Atlanta suburb he calls home, Csuka volunteers, speaks to local high school students about embracing their entrepreneurial spirit and potential career options, donates time and dollars to causes that equip and inspire women, fund childhood cancer research, and gives back to the local community.
Like other CEOs over the last three years, he has had to face an unprecedented level of and unrelenting amount of change from the global pandemic, economic uncertainty, changing business models, and new market forces – all against the backdrop of a competitive talent landscape, acquisition and divestiture activity, and other operational challenges. Added to the list is protecting employee mental health and wellness, healing pandemic trauma, including the shift to remote projects, and helping the next generation of workers navigate what it means to be at work while motivating seasoned professionals to stay challenged with more opportunities to deliver their best.
Stepping into a new CEO position with a board commitment to lofty growth goals, it was clear a few things need to happen:
Attract top talent
- Enhance the employee engagement by creating an environment that helps people do their best work
- Drive decisions using data and discussion
- Give a sense of ownership and empowerment for responsibilities and results to the team
- Recognizing the need to balance people, purpose, and profits, Csuka drew upon lessons learned from The Multiplier Effect, a leadership book that is rooted in the logic of aligning the business to people’s passions that inspire greater productivity in people already on the team. He set in motion a plan to amplify the power of every individual and asked, what could be done to develop and grow their capabilities?
Essential Elements of culture
Csuka knew that setting the culture and cultivating it through leadership that lives the company values and is accountable for their behavior was a key. With a strong top team, the strategy centered on creating high performance by putting people first. What does that look like in practice? It comes down to commitment, communication, and culture.
A strong company culture provides employees with a sense of belonging, purpose, and identity, fostering a positive work environment that supports productivity, collaboration, and innovation. It sets the tone for how employees engage with each other, customers, and external stakeholders. It also acts as a guiding force, helping employees make decisions and prioritize actions that align with the company’s core values.
Csuka wanted to be intentional about building a strong culture and made a list of things to do:
- Provide clarity on company values and how they are defined
- Have a clear sense of purpose
- Communicate the mission
- Increase transparency
- Build employee engagement
- Invest in learning and development
- Commit to diversity and inclusion
- Promote work-life balance
- Celebrate contributions
Determining what matters to employees and following up with action was a key part of the strategy to establish the foundation for trust and future progress. Csuka joined meetings, promoted surveys, led town halls and open forums to create information exchange, and invested in the Workday Peakon listening platform to understand employee engagement and get actionable insights.
Recognizing employees wanted greater meaning from work, and wanting to inspire greater potential, he introduced the mantra “one team, one dream, one goal,” to connect people to a purpose. The mission was woven into onboarding and training programs, corporate meetings, and culture-building activities. Having an authentic purpose reenergized the team, and increased collaboration, learning, and performance.
Csuka also opened the door to transparency and the “why” behind how decisions are made. The reason is simple: Transparency leads to trust which helps strengthen commitment and provides context to the company’s vision and goals. High levels of trust help employees be more confident in raising issues, asking for help, or highlighting contributions to business success.
Csuka is also credited with shaping an inclusive culture through a focus on diversity and inclusion. A welcoming environment where it is easy to fit in is a key draw for new hires and critical for retention. His active participation in town halls, new hire happy hours, and lunch and learns are opportunities to show the culture in action and help individuals get to know one another. By creating a sense of belonging, it roots employees to the culture, and so they are more likely to stay.
Building supportive and empathetic leadership, providing greater flexibility, new opportunities for learning and growth, and a sense of community all help to cultivate a high-performance culture. When Csuka learned team members longed for greater connectedness, he encouraged leaders to implement strategies for how to be together even while working apart, such as regional meetups, monthly practice meetings, and project and team member celebrations.
As he heads into his third year as CEO, the biggest lesson is that culture starts at the top with the CEO through leadership understanding and addressing the team’s personal and professional needs. Incorporating what is best for employees with a defined set of guiding principles will enable them to complete work to the highest standards without sacrificing their personal lives. With another year of year-over-year growth, Csuka shows he has what it takes to lead and inspire and multiply the potential of people on his team.
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