When people think about company culture, they probably think of ping pong tables, open-space offices, and a company masseuse. They may assume that company culture is only something you have to worry about for salaried workers in specific industries.
Here’s the truth about company culture: whether you are purposeful about making it or not, you have one.
Company culture can, if developed and used well, create a productive (and happier) workforce. How do you do that?
1. Understand why company culture matters
In Forbe’s 2015 survey, half of employees felt that company culture had a direct impact on productivity, creativity, and how profitable a business was. 95% of employees said that company culture mattered more than their wage. These are the kinds of statistics that we’ve been reading for several years.
But there’s more. Consider that your company culture is the unspoken manager that your workforce isn’t even aware of.
Consider that when you leave the room, the unspoken boss that is left for the employees to function under is your company culture. According to Harvard Business Review, company culture is like the mortar in a brick wall, filling in the gaps so that your workforce can actually do their work. It “guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off.”
When an employee has to make any decision in which management isn’t around, culture helps them do that. When an employee has a new idea to run by management, the company culture tells them whether or not they should bother, or how they should go about it.
Company culture is like an autopilot, steering your business when you’re not there to do it by hand.
2. Be purposeful about developing company culture
You can either let company culture develop by default, or steer it in a good direction. In a 2015 survey, 70% of respondents said that developing company culture was up to a company’s leaders to develop that culture. If you don’t take on that role, the culture that develops on its own will be solely built on:
- Leadership example in action, not just in the words said.
- Strong personalities in employees and management.
- Ethical standards as exhibited by rules and guidelines in the employee handbook and how fairly they are enforced.
If you have leaders and employees who are ethical, motivated, upbeat, and kind to each other, maybe this unintentional approach will work out for you. Kudos for such an amazing workforce. But any flaws in leadership or their example are magnified as other employees absorb that as the standing company culture, and repeat the behavior or attitude.
3. Align your culture to your goals
Amazon’s company culture made the news back in 2015, in a New York Times expose. The NYT article suggested a brutal hard-charging culture that seemed to chew employees up and spit them out.
No doubt there is truth to some of the claims, but there is another view to take of Amazon’s culture: it fits the goals of the company. Consider that Amazon’s seemingly aggressive, demanding, and nimble company culture attracts the kinds of employees that will help the company itself be aggressive and nimble in the marketplace. It doesn’t attract (or keep) employees who just want to punch in and out on the time clock.
If your company culture is aligned to the goals of your business, it will attract a workforce that can help you get there. Your culture must fit your trajectory.
4. Don’t rely on gimmicks
The greatest company culture in the world won’t do much if employees aren’t participating in it. This is a particular problem if your culture is activities-based, or a gimmick. It is easy for an employee to simply choose not to participate.
Gimmicks are things like free candy walls, free beer on Fridays, gourmet food catered in once a week–all fun and exciting, but nothing that gets you towards business goals. Why?
- Gimmicks don’t translate well across generational lines.
- Gimmicks can disrupt productivity instead of encouraging it.
- Gimmicks grow old quickly, and you’re soon caught in a trap of always having to top the last attempt.
Gimmicks and special activities are fine for celebrating special events, employee highlights, or when you’ve met important business goals, but they aren’t the core of a company’s culture. As a whole, they may be part of a company culture that says “we have periodic fun” or “we celebrate big moments”, but the activities in and of themselves are not the culture.
Interested in more detailed information on this topic? Check out our post on aligning company culture with business goals.
5. Empower your workforce
Empowered employees are confident employees. Confident employees are productive, hit sales goals, are creative, handle customer situations well, and feel as if they are part of a team instead of some lone wolf who might quit when a better job comes along. This means that:
- Employees have flexible scheduling, where they can recommend, request, or trade shifts.
- Employees are kept in the loop on information, and management avoids noticeably secretive behavior or meetings that cause gossip, speculation, and distrust.
- Employees know their opinions are valued, and there is a clear system for them to share ideas with management free of reprisal.
- Employees know that their personal lives are both respected and protected.
- Employees know the boundaries, and have the freedom to do whatever they need to do that stays within the boundaries.
6. Improve your company’s physical environment
Company culture isn’t just some abstract concept. There are tangible aspects, too.
Do you have flickering fluorescent lights that buzz and annoy? Are the walls in the employee break room dingy, in need of paint, or splattered with food over by the microwave? Is the office or break room furniture worn out, mismatched, or in need of repair? Are the windows dirty, or the work areas dark without much light?
All of these little things start to add up to one message to employees: management doesn’t care about you.
Improve the physical workplace so it is more pleasant to actually do the work, and you create a company culture that says employees matter enough to invest in them in this way.
7. Make “fit” a major piece of your hiring process
Any hiring manager knows the challenge of filling a much-needed role. When a highly skilled candidate sits down for an interview, it is so tempting to want to give them an offer. But if you’re not also assessing them for fit, you could be shooting yourself and your organization in the foot.
Peers play an incredibly strong role in motivating each other and offering recognition and appreciation. If you fail to hire for individuals that embrace these traits, you won’t get them. And the end result will be a far less rewarding environment that disengages your workers. It may take longer to find the right candidate in the short term, but your long-term business performance will improve because of it.
The process isn’t easy. And it won’t be fast. But ultimately, you’re investing in your business’s long-term success by hiring people who fit your positive culture.
8. Gather consistent feedback
Your employees are the backbone of your culture. However, many leaders forget that one of the simplest and most useful tactics to enhance company culture is simply to ask your employees how you can improve.
Schedule semi-regular meetings with employees to touch base and get a feel for their opinions on the workplace culture. Make sure to create a list of questions beforehand to keep your conversation on track. Here are some example questions:
- What could we be doing better to help you grow?
- What could we do to improve the workplace environment?
- What aren’t we doing well?
- What are the aspects of our culture you enjoy most?
Take note of what they say, and pay special attention to patterns. If several employees are citing similar pain points, it’s likely that opinion extends to others on the team.
9. Make employees lives simpler and create a culture of compliance
60% of businesses said that their employees often feel overwhelmed by peripheral work activity (e.g. messaging, email). How can you reduce the busy-ness of your employees? How can you declutter their lives at work?
Rather than make assumptions about how to do this, ask your workforce about ways their job could be simplified without hurting productivity and output. You might be surprised at the workarounds or ideas your employees have that you never thought of.
Simplifying their work also has a surprising side effect: it improves the ability of your workforce to comply with rules. If you make the path of least resistance the correct path, employees are happy to comply. This makes compliance second-nature, and you put a damper on the non-compliant attitudes in other areas.
10. Keep your company culture simple
If you’re not able to write down the key principles, or summarize your company culture in a few sentences, it’s too complex. Company culture isn’t an additional list of rules on top of the current employee handbook. It’s an overarching way of being and working that your rules, attitudes, work setting, customers, and all things fit into an agreement.
There are always duties your employees will probably never love to do, but disliking tasks is much different than dreading coming to work. A great company culture can even make those tasks easier to get through since employees are overall happy with their workplace. Ultimately, a company culture should be such that employees don’t dread coming to work, and have an easy path towards meeting and surpassing your business’s goals.How to Improve Company Culture to Build a Better Hourly Workforce Sam Campbell