Building Company Culture the Right Way
You’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of buzz around company culture today. That’s because, in a candidate’s market, job seekers are placing a higher value on work environment and employee experience. In fact, finding a great company culture is the main reason 47% of candidates start their job search.
A strong culture has been shown to improve retention and engagement, so it’s to your benefit to build a company culture that will excite employees and prospective candidates. We’ve broken down the process of creating a winning company culture. Use this guide to get started, engage the right people and track your progress.
13 Steps to Building Company Culture
- Communicate your intentions
- Evaluate your existing company culture
- Define your company
- Draft your mission statement
- Define your core values
- Communicate the results and collect feedback
- Set company-wide and departmental goals
- Build a roadmap
- Create a culture committee
- Communicate your plan with all employees
- Train your team
- Hire for cultural add
- Continuously evaluate your efforts
Recap: What Is Company Culture?
Let’s review. Company culture is defined as the shared set of values, ideals and attitudes that characterize an organization. Simply put, it’s the personality of your company. It describes the way your team members feel about the work they do, as well as how they interact with their peers and service your customers. It’s a guiding force behind your organization, so it’s important to get it right.
This guide will help you get there. So let’s dive in.
Before You Begin
Culture is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but creating a successful company culture requires effort. When building company culture, it’s important to involve the right people from the get-go. Engage members of your HR department, senior and middle management, C-suite executives and long-term employees. Ensure everyone is aligned on the high-level objectives and is prepared to dedicate the time necessary to see their responsibilities through.
You’ll notice that each phase of this plan begins with a single step: communicate. No, that’s not a typo, it’s 100% intentional. Your organizational culture is almost entirely a result of the people who make up your company. For that reason, you need full buy-in from every team member in order to create a positive work culture.
Keep the lines of communication open throughout the entire process, but kick off each phase with a debrief of your progress and an overview of the objectives moving forward. You may find that you have to backtrack at times as you gather more feedback and data — that’s a normal part of the process. However, explaining to your employees how things changed after the fact won’t go over well. If you want to build an exciting culture that engages your employees, you need them on board.
Phase One: Prepare
Phase one of this plan is vital to your team’s success. Here, you’ll lay the necessary groundwork to build a company culture that your entire team can be proud of.
Regardless of whether you’re launching your company from the ground up or you’ve been around for a while, preparation is key. Neglecting this work now only means you’ll have to double back later. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Step 1: Communicate your intentions
Before you do anything else, talk to your team. Let them know what you’re seeing, whether that’s an undesirable shift in the culture, structural pain points or anticipated challenges as your company scales.
Then, explain why you want to make a change and what you hope to achieve. Don’t worry about being hyper-specific with your observations and data; the point of this step is to bring your team into the fold. Use this opportunity to collect employee feedback. As the boots on the ground, their input is invaluable.
Step 2: Evaluate your existing company culture
To successfully build a company culture, you need to first understand your starting point. Regardless of whether you have five people or 500, a culture exists, whether you intentionally built it or not.
Employee engagement is a strong indicator of company culture; the stronger your organizational culture is, the more likely you are to engage your team. Utilize an employee engagement survey to capture an accurate picture of engagement levels. Doing so will help you understand the perception of your company internally.
You’ll also want to conduct an employer branding audit to gather information on how the public — i.e. prospective employees — views your organization. While you can’t control people’s perceptions of your team, this data will round out your understanding of the current organizational culture. For example, if you find that people generally consider your company to be self-serving but one of your core values is compassion, you know that there’s more you could do to represent this value.
Step 3: Define your company
Ask and answer the following questions: Who are we? Why does our work matter? What are we trying to accomplish? These questions get at the heart of your organization and your answers will affect subsequent steps. In fact, the who-what-why of your company should be the guiding force for every decision you make. Being unable to consistently answer these questions will allow unwanted subcultures to form and undermine your efforts. Keep your answers clear and concise and make sure key players are all in agreement.
Step 4: Draft your mission statement
Use your answers from the previous step to inform your mission statement. This should be a high level summary of your company’s main objectives and purpose. The second part is key: be very clear about the reason your organization exists and why that matters. Studies show that having a purpose beyond profit margins helps keep employees engaged and increases the likelihood of retention by 27%.
Much like your answers to the questions above, your company mission statement should be concise. Cohesion across all departments and levels is vital to properly building a company culture, so draft a mission statement that’s easy to remember and repeat. Ensure that every team member understands the organization’s mission so they can work toward a broader goal.
Step 5: Define your core values
Now that you have your mission statement, determine your company’s core values. This should be a list of attitudes and behaviors that support your organization’s mission. Think about how you’ll describe your culture and company — innovative, trustworthy, scrappy, fun, passionate, bold, fearless. These can be applicable to your team today as well as new standards you’ll aspire to. Limit your list to under 10 core values to keep it attainable.
Then, make each item actionable. For example, if “Be passionate” is one of your core values, provide some context and direction: “Be passionate: Give every project your all and take pride in the work you do. No job is beneath anyone.” In order to live out your core values, your team must understand what’s expected of them. Your core values should also inform part of your employee value proposition (EVP), which is a vital component of how you pitch your company to prospective employees.
Phase Two: Plan
With the prep work done, you’re ready to outline some actionable next steps. However, it should be noted that you’re not guaranteed smooth sailing. If at any point you receive feedback from members of your team that something isn’t working, you may want to circle back to an earlier step. Remember, every decision you make should hinge on your core values and mission statement. If something feels off within your company, you might need to revisit and rework your core values.
Step 6: Communicate the results and collect feedback
Talk to your team about the findings from your employee engagement and employer branding evaluations. What was the predominant feedback from each assessment? Is there anything you need clarification on? Use this time to address any extreme feedback or areas of concern.
Then, review the company’s new mission statement and what it means for each department. 38% of employees want a job that aligns with their passion, so let them know they are contributing toward something remarkable.
Finally, explain the updated core values individually. Go over how each one contributes to your company’s mission and the kind of behavior each elicits. Ask for your employee’s feedback and answer any questions they have. Remember, people are the driving force of culture, so ensure every employee is well-informed and aligned before moving forward.
Step 7: Set company-wide and departmental goals
After analyzing the results, set tangible and realistic goals for improving company culture. For example, if turnover has been a problem for your organization, aim to “Reduce turnover by 15% this time next year.” Being specific with what you want to achieve will make it easier to track your progress, which you can do by utilizing additional employee engagement surveys and conducting feedback sessions. In the case of turnover, however, you can easily calculate your progress by looking at the number of employees that have left.
Additionally, establish your company’s long-term business objectives by considering what you want to achieve within the next five years and how you hope to have evolved. Then set departmental goals so each team has measurable metrics that contribute to the big picture. This will help to build a unified culture; having a specific goal to work toward will help motivate employees, and a big picture idea will demonstrate their work’s value to the company.
Step 8: Build a roadmap
Assign roles and responsibilities to key people, including HR representatives, executives and any long-term employees you want involved. Additionally, you’ll want to set a timeline so you know when to check back in on your progress. Remember to be realistic — change won’t happen overnight. Building a great company culture now will benefit your company years down the road. Plan to tackle your most important goals right off the bat. Not only is this a logical approach, but it will convey your commitment to your employees and bolster their confidence in leadership.
Step 9: Create a culture committee
Your employees are the driving force behind your culture, so streamline your efforts by establishing a culture committee. This group should be made up of one or two representatives from each department and across all levels of the company. Seek out your company’s brand ambassadors — the people who are excited to be a part of your organization and are truly invested in the team’s success. Highly engaged employees are the best catalysts for your culture, so ensure they are part of your grassroots efforts.
Go a step further and establish multiple committees to oversee individual initiatives, such as events, diversity and inclusion, charity and social committees. Having dedicated committees ensures your company culture ideas account for each facet of your culture. It also provides the opportunity to involve more members of your team in your cultural initiatives.
Phase 3: Implement
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, you can start putting your plan into effect. Keep the lines of communication open to promote a culture of transparency. This is also the time to roll out your employer branding strategy as an added boost to elevate your company culture.
Step 10: Communicate your plan with all employees
Inform your employees by reviewing the timeline and goals. Failing to do so will discredit your team — employees can’t buy into your plan if they don’t know what it is you’re trying to achieve and when. Let employees know that you’ll be regularly evaluating your progress (more on that in a minute) so they can expect more frequent assessments.
At this stage, you should also introduce the leaders of the culture committee and its subsets. That way, everyone knows who to go to if there’s an idea, question or concern about a particular initiative. Ideally, you’ll encourage other engaged employees to join a committee and become culture catalysts.
Step 11: Train your team
Ensure every employee — from the most recent hires to the most tenured managers — are trained on your core values. Without this, you can’t in good conscience expect your team to uphold the values you set forth.
Additionally, you can’t expect employees to adhere to these values if you don’t. Employees look to leadership for guidance, so lead by example. Modeling your values will encourage the same behavior in your staff. Conversely, if employees feel management and C-suite executives are exempt from the rules, they’ll start to distrust the leadership and disengage from the company.
You’ll also want to shine a spotlight on employees that live out your core values. Positive reinforcement will show that the values aren’t just a few words on paper — they’re important to your organization’s success. Encourage managers to reward their direct reports for value-driven behavior as well as exceptional performance in their roles. Provide employees with a platform to shout out their peers’ accomplishments and thank each other for their support.
Step 12: Hire for cultural add
Not that it wasn’t important until now, but your prep work is hugely important to your recruitment strategy. Clearly defining who you are and what you value will help you identify candidates who are passionate about your company mission. Remember that you can train for skills, but you can’t entirely instill your values, attitudes and personality into prospective employees.
Hiring for cultural add means employing individuals who share your core values, but have ideas, experiences and backgrounds that are unique to your team. This recruitment strategy ensures that you continue to improve your company culture as your workforce expands.
Step 13: Continuously evaluate your efforts
Building a company culture isn’t a one-and-done situation. Culture is a living entity, meaning it will transform and mature over time. Your culture committee will continue to roll out new initiatives to help your culture flourish, and assessing their efforts is crucial to tracking your progress and measuring ROI.
We know that company culture is directly related to engagement, so make use of employee engagement surveys to get a pulse on how your team is responding to your culture. Other ways to measure employee engagement include one-on-one interviews and small group discussions. Whichever method you choose, carefully analyze the data and make adjustments to your strategy accordingly.
Your company culture is the personality and essence of your organization. Choosing to be unintentional with your culture strategy allows negativity to breed and disengaged employees to hinder your top talent’s success. Use the steps above to thoughtfully build a company culture. If you find that you’re not in love with the culture you’ve created, know that there’s always the option to change your company culture.