With more companies regaling employees with unlimited vacation, free beer, or bring-your-dog-to-work days, it’s no wonder company culture is a hot topic in today’s workforce. “Cool” factor aside, there are practical reasons to pay attention to your company’s collective identity. It shapes the direction of your organization as it grows, for starters:
“Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room,” says Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in the Harvard Business Review. Think of culture as an extension of the original mission of the business: it can make or break future client relations.
Also, an excellent culture contributes to “improved employee communication, collaboration, wellness and performance,” according to a Recruiterbox article. It’s a fact of life that people work harder when they feel their work is meaningful and enjoyable.
However, culture can be a bit tricky to define, and even harder to change. Here are tips for doing both.
Assess your current culture
It’s tough to look at your culture objectively, especially when you’re immersed in it every day. There are several ways to get an accurate picture of employee morale, interactions with clients or customers, and the other daily activities that give your company its identity:
Does your restaurant purport a family-friendly atmosphere, but Google reviews reveal customers are consistently disappointed with how employees treat kids? Online reviews can be a good starting point for understanding your customer’s’ perspective, and whether or not it fits your target culture.
Give employees a questionnaire
An anonymous questionnaire can shed light on workplace truths that might take months to uncover by observation alone. Ask your employees how people act on the job, if they feel satisfied or dissatisfied at work, and what having the job means to them. Ask for words that describe employees’ daily interactions with coworkers, customers, and managers, to serve as a jumping-off point when you redefine your company vision and values later.
Write up a list of culture-related topics and spend some time over the course of a week to observe your employees and customers.
- Employee and manager reactions to conflict
- Attitudes about teamwork
- Employee assertiveness
- Company values, in comparison to employee behavior
- Level of innovation and encouragement of new ideas
- Recognition, if any, of outstanding team members
- Rate of turnover, and how it affects employees
Hire a culture auditor
If you’re pressed for time and have the budget, hiring a culture auditor may be a good investment. Plus, getting a second opinion from a professional can help combat your biases.
Work toward a better culture
Based on what you discover from your research, you can take actionable steps to improve culture. It begins with having your company identity defined in written form, and ends with follow-through:
Write, or rewrite, your vision and values
The key is to be authentic. Your successful competitor’s culture may be young, carefree, and innovative, but if your organization is more rooted in tradition, don’t try to force a change. Instead, take what you like about your company’s culture and write a vision that reflects its positive traits.
Next, develop values. Values are the pathway to achieving the company vision. For example, values that support the vision to “treat everyone equally” may include sympathy, respect, and integrity. Give your employees concrete examples of what behaviors these values entail. Work these into your training materials and messaging.
After you’ve rewritten your vision and values, post them prominently throughout your office or establishment. According to a Harvard Business Review article, when companies post their vision where employees can see it, employees feel a greater sense of purpose, and are more focused at work.
Brainstorm ways to increase employee engagement, trust, creativity, and ongoing learning. Can you organize a volunteer event, or a team outing? What about creating a special task force to address a company problem, to give your key players the opportunity to work together toward a greater purpose?
Physical space has a strong impact on human behavior, as well. Consider making small changes around the office or work space: from something small like adding plants to boost creativity and innovation, to a full-on remodel. Provide a break room or tear down cubicles in favor of an open layout to improve dynamics between employees.
Recruit to fit your culture
Culture begins with people, so recruiting new hires that embody your vision and values will move your organization’s identity toward your goals. One study, quoted in a Monster.com article, showed that applicants who were a good culture fit would actually accept
“a 7% lower salary, and departments with cultural alignment had 30% less turnover.”
People stick around when they feel like they belong, and you’ll have to do less work as a manager to maintain good morale when your employees are, by their own nature, excited to be there.
Find inspiration in other companies
Just as everyone needs a mentor or role model to help guide them, your company can look to other successful organizations to formulate a strong culture. Observe those in your own industry, either by reading reviews, visiting websites, or stopping in at their physical locations. To start, Business Insider profiled 25 of the most enjoyable companies to work for in 2014, and Entrepreneur surveyed company culture in 2015 to find the best of the best.
When companies are willing and able to adapt their culture over time, they “routinely outperform their competitors”. Some studies report the difference at 200% or more. Defining and improving your company culture doesn’t just please your employees and help improve morale: it can actually have long-lasting effects on business success for years to come.