You Already Have a Company Culture (But Is It the One You Want?)

By February 13, 2018Leadership

It’s common knowledge that some of the most successful companies have developed corporate cultures that encourage an almost fanatical devotion from employees. For instance, Southwest’s employees seem markedly more engaged than the employees of other airlines, and Google’s support of employees working on creative projects has resulted in some of the company’s most popular features.

Clearly, these companies — and many others like them — have consciously created an environment where people want to work. Of course, these well-known companies often have the money to put into the types of great perks you also hear about. Small and mid-sized companies don’t always have these resources.

Fortunately, creating a solid company culture doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or man hours. With a focused effort, you can build the type of culture that attracts and retains the best talent.

You Already Have a Company Culture (But Is It the One You Want?)

Look at Your Current Company Culture

You might not have an open office plan, a ping-pong table in the break room, or free soda in the fridge, but your company does have a current culture. You simply have to figure out what it is.

For instance, think about how employees communicate. Do you have frequent meetings to discuss projects? Do you send emails, copying any potential stakeholders in on the message? Do you use a more modern tool like Slack to talk to each other and manage projects? That’s a part of your company culture.

Some other questions to think about as you start to define what makes up your current culture:

  • Do we take a team-based approach or do we have a top-down approach?
  • Do employees feel empowered to make decisions or do they need permission from a boss?
  • Are people expected to work overtime hours? Is this all the time or only for certain periods?
  • How do we handle vacation time, and do employees feel guilty about taking breaks?
  • Do we have strict procedures in place or do employees have freedom to approach things in their own ways?
  • Is our company diverse? How do we encourage diversity?
  • What types of benefits do employees receive? Are benefits the same across the board?

Once you have a general sense of the current culture, you also want to think about whether employees are happy with the culture. If you have a high turnover rate and a have a hard time filling open positions, it might be time to make some changes. On the other hand, if your employees seem enthusiastic about working for your company, you may only need to hammer out some of the details to make your culture more formal.

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Bring in a Variety of Voices

If you want all employees to enthusiastically support your ideas for a company culture, you need to get input from a wide variety of voices. The culture shouldn’t be defined by a few executives at the upper levels. Look for representation from employees in different departments and at varying seniority levels. Make sure you give equal weight to suggestions from all people on your new “Culture Team.”

How do you find the right people for this task?

First, send out an email to see who’s interested in working on the project. Let employees know this project will be in addition to regular work duties, but that it shouldn’t require them to work overtime. Try to choose people who are outspoken and eager to represent people from their department.

You can also send out a survey to get feedback from all employees. This is a particularly good idea for large organizations where just a few representatives might not speak for everyone. The more input you’re able to get from people in your company, the easier it will be to support and reinforce the culture later.

You Already Have a Company Culture (But Is It the One You Want?)

Define Your Values

It’s important that the company culture you develop is a direct result of your stated values. Companies that have all of the fun perks you hear about in the news do so because they have decided to put a strong focus on certain values. Things like a Friday night happy hour or a game room can help employees bond with each other, making it easier for them to work together as a team. A company with an on-site fitness center recognizes how important it is for employees to stay healthy — and they actively encourage employees to become healthier.

To start defining your values, think about how you want your company to be seen by others. What is your driving force?

  • Perhaps you want to be known for your product innovation or the way you always put your customers first.
  • Maybe you want to be recognized as a family-friendly company or a company that has a positive effect on the world.
  • You might want to be the type of company that takes risks that have the potential for big rewards or you might want to be the type of company that is more comfortable using extensive data and research before making your next move.

Each of these decisions will guide your company’s culture.

Develop Procedures or Regulations That Support Your Values

It can take several weeks or months to solidify your values, but once you have them in place, you need to create policies that reflect those values. It’s these policies that will show employees you’re not just talking about the values. You believe in them enough to focus on them, even if it costs money.

  • For instance, if you’ve determined you want to be a family-friendly company, you might think about including an on-site daycare, reviewing your family leave policies, letting employees work flexible hours, or allowing parents to work remotely when kids are sick.
  • If your company has decided it values product innovation, you should provide opportunities for employees to work creatively on new ideas, develop ways for workers at all levels to submit ideas and get recognition for those ideas, and have frequent meetings where you discuss the plans for the future.

The shift toward implementing these new strategies that support your company’s vision might be slow, but it’s important to keep moving forward.

Communicate the Company Culture

By this point, you and your team have put a lot of work into creating the company culture, and you want to get the word out. In some cases, the new culture is really a more formalized version of the culture that already existed, but some companies will be making dramatic changes. Fortunately, these changes should be for the better, so you can introduce your ideas in a way that generates a bit of excitement.

You might simply have your marketing department create a few pieces of content that clearly communicate any changes to the company culture and what you expect from employees. You might announce changes during a party or event. Ideally, the way that you roll out these ideas should fit with the values you claim to support.

You Already Have a Company Culture (But Is It the One You Want?)

Develop the Culture

A cultural shift doesn’t happen immediately. It might take months for employees to fully buy in to the new ideas, and even if they like the idea, it can be hard to break old habits.

Sometimes, bringing everybody into the fold requires some type of specialized training. If you wanted to improve efficiency by making sure everyone is on the same page, for instance, you could have all employees attend a Franklin Covey seminar and purchase planners for each person. A company making the shift to a new software program will want to ensure all employees have the training they need to use it effectively.

As you hire new employees, make sure your new hires are a good cultural fit. Much of the success of Zappos’ company culture comes from the strong focus on hiring the right people. New employees should also receive the same type of training you gave other employees as you introduced the system. Learning about the company culture should be a part of the training phase.

Walk the Walk

Your company culture can’t be all talk. You have to show through your actions that you believe the company culture is important. You’ve already done this by creating policies and procedures that support your vision, but employees should see upper management acting in ways that reflect the company’s values and culture.

This goes for both positive and negative elements of the stated culture. Lower-level employees who have to work overtime to meet the company’s production goals will feel resentful if management is clocking out at 6pm. Everyone needs to pitch in if there’s work to be done. On the flip side, the new “unlimited vacation” policy might be something that seems like it encourages employees to take care of their mental health with much-needed breaks, but if nobody feels like they can use their vacation time, it’s a false promise. Employees need to see that other people are using their vacation time.

You Already Have a Company Culture (But Is It the One You Want?)

Review and Adjust Your Company Culture

Studying and developing the company culture should be an ongoing process. Times change. People change. The culture shifts. You may find that something that sounded good on paper simply isn’t working out in reality.

Don’t be afraid to make changes. Consider sending out an anonymous survey once a year to get feedback from all employees. Have your Culture Team meet quarterly to review the current climate and find new solutions to the problems that creep up. Being open to new ideas can make your program a bigger success.

Deciding to work on developing your company culture is a step in the right direction. Keep taking those steps and your company will become the type of place that attracts top talent.

1. My Say, “How to Build a Great Company Culture,” Forbes, Oct 4, 2013.
2. Erika Anderson, “The Key to Creating a Great Company Culture,” Forbes, May 9, 2017.
3. Howard Stevenson, “The 4 Elements That Make Great Company Culture,” Kissmetrics Blog.
4. Monica Zent, “The 8 Essential Steps to Building a Winning Company Culture,” Entrepreneur, Nov 7, 2014.
5. Sujan Patel, “10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures,” Entrepreneur, Aug 6, 2015.
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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.

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