The rise of the Silicon Valley startup and the ensuing battle for tech talent have reverberated throughout the world, contributing at least in part to an increased focus on company culture. The last few decades have seen sweeping changes in the culture of major corporations, from small changes such as relaxed dress codes to innovations like nap pods that came straight out of left field.
Weird benefits aside, companies that cultivate a strong sense of culture enjoy a significant competitive advantage. According to Gallup, they attract the most talented job applicants and enjoy 33% higher revenue — plus, they need to hire less often. Research from Columbia University found that organizations with high degree of company culture experience a turnover rate of just 13.9%, while those with a toxic culture experience an expensive turnover rate of 48.4%.
Unfortunately, not even $13,000 nap pods can guarantee a rich, mission-driven culture. Instead, culture is something that takes time and leadership to develop. With that in mind, the best time to start is now. Follow these three steps and you can plant the seeds for a company culture that employees will never want to leave.
- Take transparency seriously.
There are no gray areas in a mission-driven organization with a strong focus on culture. When transparency is the norm, it creates an environment of trust and openness that’s essential for clear communication. When the lines of communication are unobstructed, employees feel like they can share ideas, give and receive feedback, and rely on management to keep them informed about changes in company ownership, structure, or trajectory.
In a company that prizes transparency, there shouldn’t be unexpected surprises. Keep employees in the loop whether news is good or bad, and give them plenty of time to process new information. Also, offer employees opportunities for input and ask directly for their advice. You might adapt a transparency policy like that of Buffer, where employees know everything about each other, even salary information. Or you could extend your transparency to the world at large, as Patagonia has done through its supply chain transparency efforts. When you click on a product on the outwear company’s website, you can access information about the environmental footprint of that item.
- Put people first.
A select few businesses have been operating on a “triple bottom line” approach for years, balancing their goal of profits with an equal focus on benefiting both people and the planet. Up to now, these organizations have largely been the exception to the rule, but that might be changing. The Business Roundtable, a group of 181 CEOs at the world’s biggest companies, recently rewrote its Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation to do away with the notion of shareholder primacy.
Now the Roundtable has committed to looking out for the interests of additional stakeholders, from customers and communities to employees and the environment. While it’s tempting to think that these CEOs have had a collective moral epiphany, the change is largely a self-interested one. Groups such as Millennials are increasingly adopting a socially conscious consumerism, and these individuals are also employees who demand the same from their employers. If you want your own organization to take meaningful steps, create a forum for employee voices to be heard. In addition, make sure employees are recognized for their hard work, and hold regular one-on-one meetings to discuss employee development.
- Instill a clear purpose.
To turn purpose from a meaningless placard on the wall to a mission that employees live by, it needs to become a deeply ingrained part of your company culture. A survey of more than 700 CEOs in the U.S. and Europe found that 97% of respondents saw purpose as an important ingredient in an organization, but less than 30% felt it was most effective under their leadership, according to Brandpie, a strategic creative consultancy.
Take the temperature of your current culture by engaging with employees and seeing whether they know the company’s mission. Then ask the same of your customers. If everyone is on the same page, your culture supports your mission and amplifies it. If there’s a disparity, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and connect workers with the “why” of your company.
All too often, conversations about company culture center around beanbag chairs and ping-pong tables, giving way to the notion that a few office props can transform a company into a workers utopia. Reality, of course, is far different, and it takes considerable effort to create a culture that supports each employee and catapults a company ahead of the competition.
The good news is that you can start small. By adopting these three initiatives, you’re signaling to your employees that culture will be an important emphasis at your organization. Set the stage for a mission-driven culture, and the evolution will follow.
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