A strong company culture motivates employees and instils a sense of belonging throughout the organisation. Certain elements of the culture, however, can be negative or even toxic, and it is up to leaders to identify and address these issues.
While some company cultures may require a complete overhaul to address deeper issues at a foundational level, this isn't always the case. In many cases, leaders can identify the problematic aspects and then work to replace or improve them in order to create a healthier workplace.
Here, 8 cultural experts share key steps company leaders can take to improve company culture without starting from scratch.
How to improve company culture without starting from scratch
1. Positive teams drive better productivity
“Care for, support and inspire one another at work.”
“Offer kindness and compassion when others are struggling.”
“Avoid blame and forgive mistakes.”
“Demonstrate respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.” - Emma Seppälä
Old methods of engagement like perks and benefits that were often dangled in front of employees to boost performance need to be tossed out. Instead, make the workplace a more positive place to be. Emma Seppälä thoughtfully constructs and puts forward that an attitude of positivity can be the impetus of connection, confidence and well-being in the workplace.
Workplaces are strife with challenges, and therefore, committing to positivity through communication can create resilient, high-functioning teams that are committed to growth and also supported by the leadership of caring managers.
2. Bring purpose and balance to help people create meaning in and outside of the office
“Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home.” - Joe Keohane
Joe Keohane’s words on managing company culture may seemingly look like the summary of a normal work day, but, in reality, it is an authentic and simple plea to managers everywhere. Employee centricity has taken centre-stage everywhere, which has made purpose-driven work even more significant to achieve the balance between work and life.
Praising the longevity of work hours leaves nothing in one’s life for personal development. Managers need to understand that employees need time to rest and recuperate, and create meaning in their lives outside of the office. Therefore, hire the people who are the right fit for the role, give then tasks that are aligned with their zones of expertise, mentor them towards personal and professional success, and gain results in enhanced business processes.
3. Energize the workforce without burning them out
“What companies really need to measure is not how engaged their employees are, but rather how consistently energized they feel. That means focusing not just on inspiring them and giving them opportunities to truly add value in the world, but also on caring for them and providing sufficient time to rest and refuel.” - Tony Schwartz
The organizational agenda to improve company culture often has employee engagement at the top of the list. However, the ambiguity of its nature often drives engagement to the edge, translating to people arriving early to office, clocking in longer hours, and putting work above a balanced healthy lifestyle.
Compassion fatigue inspires people to give their absolute in terms of time and effort to help others, but they are rarely supported by the organization in caring for themselves. If employers can’t meet the core needs of employees, it’s unrealistic to expect employees to give their maximum or invest in the purpose of the company.
Schwartz suggests that the new gauge of positive cultural change and successful teamwork in the workplace depends on how consistently energized employees feel. Employees need to live their purpose outside of work, rest and recuperate, and be unstuck from the cycle fo 60-70 hour work weeks.
4. Stop advertising the “Happy Employee Model” but fail to come through with true employee happiness
“"Happy employees" is just another part of the Godzilla mechanism of bureaucracy and hierarchy glued together by fear. We can shoot much higher than to have merely happy employees… Happiness is fleeting, but connection to your work is a power source that gets stronger over time. You can create that energy in your organization by getting rid of red tape bureaucracy and rules, one stupid and archaic policy at a time.” - Liz Ryan
Liz Ryan states that the “Happy Employee Model” that is often touted by companies is mostly just a fad that prioritises the material comforts offered by companies (like free snacks and a game room), but fails to actually provide the results of true employee happiness.
Instead of introducing more programs, the real focus should be on removing the elements that drive the fear of work and obstacles that come in the way of trust. Break away form the binds that limit growth and creative potential, and make room for inspiration to flourish.
5. Facilitate group discussions
“Change doesn’t come top-down; it is also bottom-up and full of fluctuating dynamics. Engage your people in conversation about the intentions of the culture change and the values that you want to uphold, and then solicit their input. This creates a shared commitment to any change and, in and of itself, begins the change process by enhancing cooperation and shared vision.” - Candice Gottlieb-Clark
Fostering teamwork is part of creating a work culture that values collaboration. Rather than encouraging competition, a culture of teamwork creates opportunities for employees to work together and use all available resources and skills to reach business-wide goals.
Encouraging a collaborative work environment takes more than just putting employees on teams or telling them to work together. Teamwork needs to become a valued part of your workplace culture, starting in the executive suite and trickling down into everyday interactions with customers.
6. Create a culture playbook
“You must define clearly what “right” looks like, feels like and sounds like on a daily basis. Keeping it simple and actionable is key. Creating a culture playbook makes your values come alive and keeps the guardrails up around how “we” do things around here. From there, everyone protects your environment, not just leadership.” - Shelley Smith
A good culture playbook should serve as the grease that improves company culture and keeps it rolling at top speed.
The playbook should help recruit the best candidates, make better hiring decisions, and improve onboarding so that new hires can quickly integrate into the team. Companies that have created one have discovered that it aids in the definition of a more focused direction toward goals, the development of resilience, and the efficient resolution of problems. Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for them to build the one competitive advantage that no one can replicate: an authentic, stand-out company culture that scales.
7. Ensure leadership aligns with culture
“The secret sauce is alignment. With basic elements in place, look at leadership. As leadership expert John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Are the leaders grounded in the organization’s values and leadership principles? Are they focused on the same priorities? What’s the communication stream running throughout the organization? And how are the leaders active and visible across the organization?” - Dr. Teresa Ray
Today's employees want to know that they are making a difference in their workplaces. While every organization's work culture is unique, the extent to which employees are empowered to be engaged, feel valued, and be heard is the foundation of what enables a culture to thrive. Here is where leadership comes into play.
Companies must first reexamine their cultures to ensure that they are attracting and retaining the type of talent that will drive business success if they want to create a workplace culture of employee empowerment and engagement. Leaders should be honest about how well they listen to employees, model cultural values, and recognise employee performance — all of which are critical to empowering a diverse workforce and improving company culture.
8. Identify your culture’s ‘glory stories’
"Identify the “glory stories” of your culture. What is revered in your culture can and will be emulated. What values does the company culture demonstrate through its triumphs, kindnesses and save-the-day moments? Finding and telling the true stories that show how the values and desired culture are put into action is the quickest way to make it come alive and show appreciation for the exemplars.” - Jessica Hartung
For millennia, storytelling has been a fundamental part of human experience and culture. They enable us to comprehend our surroundings, as well as ourselves and one another. The collective cultural identity of a company is something that must be discovered and evolved rather than created or designed. And the best place to begin improving company culture is by identifying its stories.