Building a Strong Company Culture

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Company culture starts at the top. It is used to unite your workforce and create a cohesive group of people working towards a common goal; it binds members together and influences how they think about themselves, their fellow employees and their work.

Fortune magazine annually publishes a prestigious list of "100 Best Companies to Work For." The "100 Best" consistently report that they are able to maintain a competitive edge because of culture. And by "culture", they mean more than nice perks; they offer a work environment that demonstrates that employees are treated and respected as adults. The essence of the 100 Best is a commitment that the company really cares about employees – in words and deeds.

Creating a positive culture is hardly a simple matter. But when an organization faces the challenges of recruiting and retaining employees, culture can become an influential factor. Let's explore how to establish your own company culture and make it work for you.

How to Determine Your Company Culture

The leadership of the company sets the tone; it is up to executive management to define what the company stands for and what they won't stand for.

  • What is important to you? What do you want to accomplish?
  • What is your vision and mission statement?
  • Do you want a cutting-edge, Google-esque work environment or a more traditional 9-5 office setting?
  • Do you want your employees to be socially conscious and involved in the community?
  • Do you want a highly competitive environment?
  • Will you expect each individual in your workforce to be an intrinsic part of the organization?

There is no right or wrong decision – this is your company and you can make it out to be whatever you'd like. What is important and extremely necessary though is that the culture needs to be embraced by everyone – especially management. Your corporate culture is so important in sustaining the mission, goals and objectives of your organization that when even one department or group is not included or complying, it creates a hole in the company.

A department was treated with disrespect because many in Company ABC viewed their work as lowly or unskilled. The President of Company ABC found out about this treatment and immediately hired a strong, outside manager. The responsibility of this manager was to integrate the company culture into this department that was viewed unfavorably. The President made it a point to spend as much time as possible with the new manager to ensure Company ABC's mission and culture was embedded in him.

Within three months, the Company's view of this department was completely changed. Turnover was noticeably reduced and the department as a whole became a well-respected and integral part of achieving the Company's mission and goals.

How to Communicate Your Company Culture

What is your mission statement? The mission statement provides structure for your business goals and objectives and must have buy-in and understanding from the rest of your workforce. All other communications should emulate this message. As the roadmap for your vision, it should be very clear. Even though it might be clear to you, how well you do think your colleagues and workforce know it? Try asking them – and don't be surprised if they're unclear or confused. Take time to write it down, show it to others and when it's clear and concise, use it in the places where employees can it regularly:

  • Handbooks
  • Memos and Letters
  • Newsletters
  • FAQs
  • Company Intranet/Website
  • Meetings
  • Employee Satisfaction/Climate Surveys
  • Employee Recognition Programs
  • Team Building Activities
  • Social "Extra-Curricular" Activities

In order for your culture to reach full potential, it needs to be integrated into each and every position within the company – from the CEO to the newly hired intern. Communication is key here: this message and vision that you have created needs to be clear, consistent, and highly visible in every written and verbal interaction.

How to Make Your Company Culture Work

The culture and spirit of a company resides in its employees. The human capital advantage (the combined knowledge, skills and experience of a company's employees) is the single most important asset a company possesses. By definition, it cannot be copied by other companies and can therefore be a source of sustainable competitive advantage. You will need to be patient in building this – a strong corporate culture and human capital takes time to develop. A company cannot expect to turn its fortunes around overnight by simply adopting a vision that emphasizes investment in its employees.

Because people are increasingly more mobile and may leave, taking their knowledge with them, it is important that your corporate culture develops creative, loyal, and empowered employees. It is essential to invest in your human capital; sometimes it only takes a small amount of time and attention to change an attitude resistant to the company culture:

An employee was exhibiting unwelcome behavior towards management and his co-workers. Instead of avoiding the issue and terminating the employee, his supervisor devoted extra time to help this employee understand his role within the company and how his actions affect the organization's strategic initiatives.

In a short amount of time, this employee became a productive and valued member of the company. He received raises, promotions and was widely respected by his peers. By investing a little time and effort into this employee, he was able to understand and adopt the company culture and thrive within the organization.

What can you do to ensure your company culture succeeds?

  • Identify values that employees are looking for (work/life balance, flexibility, career development) and work with management to deliver those values
  • Develop innovative organizational development programs
  • Align recruitment with the strategic plan to identify and hire the types of employees the organization will need in the future

Establishing a culture that is open, transparent, and enables employees to thrive is important for creating a more motivated, high-performing workforce. In strong, effective cultures, employees share the same values and strive toward the same goals. This kind of environment breeds high morale, high retention (i.e. low turnover), and high productivity which ultimately leads to higher profits.

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Guest March 26 2017
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