“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneur's job is to build the foundation.”
-Brian Chesky, Co-founder, and CEO of Airbnb
Employees today value culture and the environment more than the pay they get. In fact, 70% of people would rather accept a lower salary and let go of a fancy title than deal with bad workplace culture, according to a Linkedin survey.
That being said, leaders today are not oblivious to these employee expectations. Rather, 85% of CEOs and CFOs believe an unhealthy culture leads to unethical behavior. In addition to that, 9 out of 10 CFO’s agree that improving company culture has a direct positive impact on their company’s business value and performance. So, leaders acknowledge that they’re putting more and more effort in order to build a strong company culture.
But do the employees agree? Not really. Almost half of the employees (45%) believe that their leadership is minimally or not at all interested in working towards the company culture. Clearly there’s a gap between employee expectations from culture and what’s being served to them.
While there’s no comprehensive list of what an ideal company culture should look like, there’s definitely a process companies can follow to build a culture that employees feel connected to. Here are 5 steps to building a strong company culture.
5 steps to build a strong company culture
Step 1: Discover your foundation
The process of building a company’s culture begins with you, the leader. It begins with introspection to find your company’s mission, vision, and goals. You need to work with senior management to define your core. And it means finding the why, what, and how of your business.
First comes your mission statement. Retrospect and look for the reason why you began your journey, and why did you choose to get into this business. This becomes the purpose of your business. For instance, Linkedin’s mission statement, “To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”, strongly ties back to their essential function. With this, it becomes easier to tie back business decisions to the purpose and know whether or not a particular decision is helping the cause.
Secondly, you must lay down your vision. What do you wish to accomplish 5/10/20 years down the road? A vision helps you align your team’s actions to a common goal. Every vertical, every member has a common vision to work towards. For instance, the non-profit organization, Teach for India, has it’s vision statements as, “One day, all children will attain an excellent education.” That’s the ultimate goal that they want to achieve. This helps them align the goal of each fellow that joins their team to one purpose.
Lastly, you establish your core values. Core values define how you achieve your vision and fulfill your mission. Figuring out the right values of your team is difficult and that’s where you can make or break your company culture. These values help in shaping your company’s image and allows you to make better hiring and operational decisions. So, how do you set these values?
You first find out values that drive you as a professional and you’d want your team to have. Then, you move to the second step.
Step 2: Involve your team
Cambridge dictionary defines organizational culture as “the types of attitudes and agreed ways of working shared by the employees of a company or organization”. Read that again.
Setting down values that are not reflected in your work environment will jeopardize your efforts in building company culture. At the end of it, all you’d get would be your employees saying, “Well, they say it. But they don’t do it.” or “They’re all words and no action.”
This is where involving employees in culture building helps. Start with an anonymous survey to know what your employees feel about the company culture and the values you’re trying to drive. A culture survey would vary for each company. For instance, if inclusivity, empowerment, ownership are some of the values that you want in your culture, then some of the questions to include would be:
A survey like this would help you know the amount of effort you’d need to drive these values and which ones need immediate attention. You could also do and awareness campaign to know how your employees feel about the culture. Simply ask your employees what they think the three core values of the company are. The closer your employees are to the answer, is the indication that you’re heading in the right direction. Otherwise, you need to come with a better plan.
Step 3: Act to build your company culture
Setting your values and putting them up on posters throughout your workspace doesn’t build company culture. You’ve to bring them into force too.
A good way to start is to lead by example. If you want a culture of timeliness, follow it yourself first. Hold yourself accountable to deadlines and adhere to them. If you want your team to have open communication and work together, be transparent with your communication first.
Secondly, reward your culture heroes. If you find a person taking ownership of a task and solving an issue, which if overlooked could have developed into a major setback, acknowledge it. From sending a company-wide appreciation email to rewarding the person with a bonus, appreciation goes a long way in building positive work culture. You can also get creative with it. For instance, get them a free Netflix subscription or movie tickets. Or get them a new office chair. Employees tend to share these additional “experiences” they get by performing well or the following values. This instills a FOMO in the rest and nudges the others to work towards it.
Lastly, use your employee feedback to take corrective action. From the survey, find out whether your managers exhibit the values that you want to build in your company culture. A new approach to surveys is Pulse surveys which have 5-10 questions asking about employee motivation, ability to handle the workload, and happiness with the company filled regularly. They help leadership understand real-time employee sentiment. Based on these surveys, you can conduct leadership and culture training for your managers so that any gaps and pain points highlighted in the survey can be addressed.
Until there’s a conscious effort towards driving and imbibing the right values, it won’t happen on its own. Therefore, every business action, from who you hire to how you conduct employee assessments, should have cultural elements in them.
Step 4: Create a sense of belongingness
When asked what keeps professionals at their jobs, the majority declared that having coworkers that they enjoy working with and an environment where they can be themselves as the major reason. This sense of belongingness to a company comes in when you tie all the first three steps together. From declaring a foundation to including your employees and finally acting on it, you build an environment where the employees feel valued and cared for. That and only that can help them value your company and work passionately towards the company goals.
An employee feels like they belong in the company when:
They get meaningful benefits
Employees today can look beyond fringe perks like nap rooms and game rooms, and seek valuable benefits like parental leave, health and fitness benefits, and pension plans. It is only when they feel cared for as humans and not treated as resources that they get a sense of belongingness in the company.
They get valuable support
In today’s fast-paced world, leadership taking time out to empathize and hear people’s concerns and opinions is valued a lot. Employees must feel that the leadership has their best interests in mind too and not just business gains.
In The End
When working to build your company culture, remember two sayings. First, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t expect your team to be aligned with your goals and values from day 1. It’s a continuous process. Secondly, there’s no recipe for culture. Culture needs to be brewed and even modified on a trial and error basis until you get it just right.
What organizations miss while brewing their company monitoring their efforts. As an ongoing process, building a culture too requires to be measured and accounted for. Just like you have metrics and KRAs for any business process, check the impact of your culture efforts too using regular and anonymous employee feedback. Remember, what Bob Parsons, Founder of the Godaddy Group has rightly said,
“Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”