In the digital age, it’s impossible to hide bad workplace culture. Thanks to platforms like Glassdoor, prospective employees barely have to lift a finger to dig up dirt on your company. Current employees don’t have to guess — they know for sure. Their impressions of the organization often determine whether they’re in it for the long haul or likely to bounce at the first opportunity for higher pay.
Culture can refer to any combination of perks, attitudes, or working styles. Many businesses offer flexible hours and remote work options, and some companies promote pet-friendly office spaces. The happier the employees are, the better the culture tends to be.
With a great culture, your hopes of retaining or acquiring top talent don’t hinge on matching ever-increasing salary expectations. That said, employees won’t take your culture seriously if you limit it to lip service and fun perks. Demonstrate your culture through actions instead of amenities to show employees that you mean what you say.
The Ingredients of a Great Company Culture
Culture isn’t something you speak into existence — it’s a byproduct of your actions. If your company logo doesn’t reflect the reality of how you operate, those empty promises mean nothing. Your company’s mission statement and core values can be as aspirational as you want them to be, but your employees need to see those values everywhere they look.
Plenty of CEOs recognize hypocrisy within their company cultures, but most of them opt for short-term fixes instead of actual change. As much as you might want to swap out the posters on the walls and call it a day, your best bet is to stop and observe. Watch how your employees interact with their work and with one another. Get in, slow down, and see what’s happening before you try to fix it.
Rushed culture changes can backfire for years. Once you tell employees that the company stands for something new, you can’t just take that back. Employees will see the confusion and assume you don’t know what the company should be.
Longtime CEOs have the opposite problem. Many become so comfortable in their roles that they continue to see the culture as they remember it — not as it has evolved.
You cannot offer employees a casual dress code or remote work options and expect those perks to improve company culture. When you change something about your employees’ everyday lives, you must be thoughtful about the results you want those changes to create. Act hastily, and you will only create more problems.
Create a Better Culture Through Experiences
Today’s most successful companies invest serious time and money into their cultures. They intentionally connect their aspirations with real, face-to-face interactions that turn employees into believers. HubSpot, for example, frequently lands the top spot on culture lists for its employee-empowering policies.
Follow these three tips to create a positive company culture in your organization:
Embrace radical honesty.
When things get hard, don’t hide in your office. Huddle everyone together to talk about what’s happening and how you plan to fix it. Whether the company is losing money or employees are working late on a major project, people want to know the reality of the situation — and they respect leaders who don’t mince words.
Be a sounding board for your employees. Take responsibility and assure them that you have a plan. Don’t substitute a video conference for your real presence — go to the office so your employees can curse at you when you walk in and hug you when you leave.
Own the message.
You could hire an outside agency to design pretty posters, but your people don’t care what marketers say about your culture. They want to hear what you think and see how you act.
Don’t put the weight of sweeping cultural change on a consultant or paid influencer. Jump into the trenches with your leadership team and join your employees on the front lines. Open up about what the company wants to be, how you plan to take it there, and what roles employees will play in that journey. Work with people — not above them — to create the authentic culture your workers crave.
Find unfamiliar territory.
Whether your employees sit in cubicles or at tables in an open office, everyone deserves an occasional break. Take your people out of the office and into an unfamiliar environment so everyone can socialize under a refreshing new light.
Bring the team to a neutral ground whenever you have big news — good or bad. Addressing serious issues off-site allows you to facilitate honest conversations in a place where no one holds more authority than anyone else. If you have cause to celebrate, go somewhere exciting and share in the success with your team.
The smartest, most forward-thinking leaders understand that company culture connects to nearly every challenge in business. Employees are more expensive to acquire than they are to keep, and a stellar company culture can improve your odds of retaining your top performers. If you continually invest in your culture — and don’t just lend empty platitudes to the symptoms of a bad one — your company will reap the rewards for years to come.
Written by Walter Kinzie.
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