Navigating the best practices when creating your company culture can be a minefield of pitfalls and errors. It can make the difference between a clear, concise company culture where everyone is on the same page, and one which leaves your employees wondering what your company's priorities actually are.
To help you cut through all the noise, here are 5 dos and don'ts to consider when creating your company culture.
Visit peer companies and study best practices
When approaching any field of study or training it's always advisable to learn from the very best. Visiting peer companies and studying their best practices will teach you how to adopt their expertise to match the requirements of your own company code.
By using services such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor, you can research peer companies and identify areas of opportunity and weakness, underscoring your company's fallibility and correcting any oversights in your company culture. The most successful companies are likely to be utilising techniques you've overlooked, and adopting these fresh ideas will pay for themselves in both productivity and turnover.
Build an accessible library of learning content
Providing your employees with the tools to enhance their skill stack and develop within the company is an essential component of any good company culture. Framing this in terms of benefiting their personal development, not just within the framework of your business but looking beyond, is a clear sign that you care about their individual growth.
Intranet and Wiki-based resource libraries are an effective way of providing relevant documentation and reference which employees can access instantaneously, while giving them the option of contributing to these resource pools ensures that they are up to date and of high relevance to the requirements of your teams.
Identify and work with cultural leaders
The strongest advocates for your company's culture are found within the workplace, and identifying managers and other members of staff who embody a culture of engagement will move your company in a positive direction.
These cultural leaders should be able to demonstrate respect towards employees, acknowledging their accomplishments, as well as communicating effectively what changes are taking place in the organization while promoting accountability and fairness.
Gallup's State of the American Manager report highlights how often employees leave managers, not companies, with one in two employees leaving a company to get away from their boss. Putting cultural leaders to the forefront improves employee retention and performance.
Factor empathy into your company culture
A common misconception of the corporate world is that empathy should be left at the door. Oliver Stone's movie Wall Street played a large role in creating the perception of a dog-eat-dog world where only the most ruthless thrive.
The reality is that empathy should be a key element of your company culture. A recent State of Workplace Empathy Study from Businessolver identified that 93% of employees say they are more likely to stick with an empathetic employer, with CEOs highlighting empathy as one of the key workplace values. Building empathy training into your culture can reduce stress while improving morale and encouraging more effective collaboration.
The data from the Empathy Index confirms the notion that higher levels of empathy creates an environment where your teams are the most creative and diverse, improving your business and delivering financial results.
Factor scalability into your company culture
The number of hypergrowth companies has been rapidly increasing in recent years, but companies experiencing steadier growth still need to factor scalability to ensure that they have the right personnel in place to meet new demands and challenges.
Taking the time to properly onboard your new employees while reinforcing the “why” at the core of your company's culture is one way to ensure your company experiences growth with its culture intact. Repetition of these core values, for instance through regular meetings designed to reinforce these principles, also helps to keep the central message clear in the minds of your employees.
Ultimately, scaling your company should keep the goals and ambitions which inspired the creation of the company at the forefront.
Use vague language when describing your core culture
When describing your company's culture it can be very tempting to use buzzwords such as “innovation”, “trust” and “transparency”. While they are great values to profess, these terms are relatively abstract and can mean different things to different people, leading your employees to interpret them based on their personal values rather than what your company intends.
Narrowing down the focus of such terms and contextualizing them for your company code helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Defining these in terms of observable behaviours is an effective way to do this. For instance, HubSpot's company culture code includes values such as:
We commit maniacally to both our mission and our metrics
We look to the long term and solve for the customer
We share openly and are remarkably transparent
We favour autonomy and take ownership
We believe our best perk is amazing people
Transforming abstract values into concrete definitions will ensure that your employees can learn, measure and reinforce these values, preventing your culture code from becoming lost in translation.
Measure culture with data alone
Gathering data, collecting metrics and encouraging employees to complete surveys is certainly good practice for any company seeking to help understand how their culture is interpreted throughout the workforce. But relying on data alone can lead to a depersonalised overview which fails to grasp the nuances of employee engagement.
To avoid any misunderstandings of how culture is interpreted on the front-lines, integrating regular and unfiltered feedback from staff affords them the opportunity to highlight in detail any gaps between a company's core culture and its impact in the workplace. Including open-response questions in surveys and providing self-assessment feedback forms which staff can complete all year round for the benefit of their managers are effective ways to close the gap between data and raw feedback.
Give sandwich feedback
A common practice for management is to give employees sandwich feedback: talk about something positive, address the areas which need improvement, then finish the feedback on another positive. While this makes sense in theory, in practice it comes off as pandering while watering down the most important aspect.
More effective alternatives include the 5 word performance review, where 2-3 positive words and 2-3 negative words used to describe an employee are given, and feed forwards, where the employee writes down the area they'd like to improve and their manager gives them positive suggestions oriented towards the future. Combine these with face-to-face feedback as opposed to written feedback and it will more effectively improve morale and performance.
Rely on a one-size-fits-all solution
Picking an off-the-shelf solution for your company culture might sound like a great time-saving shortcut, but your company code is unlikely to have the required impact if you don't personalise it to match the specifics of your business. The larger your company, the more diverse your employees the various departments they belong to, adding layers of complexity to the shared identity.
One example of where a one-size-fits-all solution fails to deliver would be a points-and-reward system for internal recognition across the workforce. While a core aspect of a culture of recognition, research from Gallup has shown that the most effective recognition comes from either a manager (28%) or a high level leader (24%), with other factors such as monetary rewards, certification and other positive evaluations all playing a role rewarding individuals and their teams.
Neglect segmented workers
According to Gallup, the number of Americans working at least some time at home has risen from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016, with those working from home over 80% of the time jumping 7 percentage points in the same time frame, from 24% to 31%
With transactional remote workers and other contractors thrown into the mix, maintaining a clear sense of a company's culture across an increasingly segmented workplace can be something of a challenge. Creating opportunities for these employees to meet up with the core team in person on a regular basis and providing them with a “digital water cooler” experience to keep them connected on a daily basis is essential for keeping them involved in a dynamic culture.
A strong organizational culture shouldn't be bound by geography – providing segmented workers with continual feedback and highlighting their involvement to traditional on-site workers will ensure your core values are reflected across each segment.