If there’s one constant when it comes to company culture, it’s that it’s always evolving.
At its core, company culture is the personality of your organization. It’s the shared set of values, beliefs and ideas that influence every aspect of your company, from how colleagues work together to how you treat customers.
If you don’t keep tabs on it — and aren’t evolving with your employees — your company culture can quickly fall apart, according to Charisse Fontes, founder of the culture consulting firm CultureCircle.
How to Improve Your Company Culture
- Create opportunities for employees to connect
- Help employees advance their careers
- Make transparency a priority
- Create an employee recognition program
- Give employees flexibility
- Celebrate team wins
- Prioritize timely and respectful feedback
- Address mental health
“If you establish space that’s needed for those variables, you will always have a good handle on your culture,” Fontes said. “It’s when companies or founders do not account for the variable and just focus on [growth] that culture starts to go to shit.”
While changing your company culture is no easy feat, it’s well worth the investment. Not only will you see positive results right off the bat, but you’ll attract talented professionals who can help take your company even further.
Preliminary Steps to Improve Company Culture
Revisit Your Core Values
Begin the process by reassessing your core values. A strong corporate culture stems from a thoughtfully determined set of values that guide everything from behavior to business decisions.
When companies have issues with value adoption, it’s often because they either have too many or they’re not relevant, according to Fontes.
Your values should be relatable to each employee and leader — meaning something they naturally practice at work and outside of it — and simple. Any more than five and employees tend to forget them, Fontes said. And when they aren’t relatable or applicable, those values can either become misconstrued or ignored.
Check that your core values align with the best parts of your existing culture and are actionable. Values like “work hard, play hard,” might sound catchy, but they leave room for misinterpretation and should be eliminated, Fontes said.
Ensure the C-suite, HR department and a few of your most tenured employees are involved in the process of outlining your company’s core values. Keep your long-term business goals in mind; the values you set today should still be relevant five years down the line. A helpful tip is to keep them human-centric, Fontes said. Think about how you want employees to treat each other.
Evaluate Your Current Company Culture
Once you’ve outlined your core values, the next step is to assess your current company culture. Take a look at your employees: Are they energized by the work they do and the values your organization currently has in place? Do they understand the goals of your company and believe in working toward those goals? Noticing signs of apathy or confusion is key to revealing the state of your company’s culture and a necessary first step when deciding what to do to nourish employee engagement and a positive work environment.
Then, determine the type of organizational culture you currently have and evaluate it in comparison to your broader company goals. Will the current structure help you achieve your long-term goals or are there serious limitations that need to be remedied?
While culture is set by leadership, employees are the driving force behind it and the most influential in its evolution. Employee engagement is a byproduct of company culture, making an employee engagement survey an excellent tool for collecting information on how well your culture resonates with your people.
In addition to short pulse surveys, talk one-on-one with a few of your long-term employees about how the culture has evolved over the years. They’ve been around since the early days and will provide invaluable insight on what has changed and what they’d like to see change.
Outline Your Plan for Improvements
Now that you’ve identified the aspects of your company culture to address, create a detailed plan of attack, including an employee engagement strategy, timeline and budget. Additionally, set benchmarks so you’re better able to track your progress.
For example, if employee relationships could stand to be improved, implement more employee engagement activities outside of work. Aim to host one social event per quarter to help foster meaningful personal connections between coworkers and track your progress.
Track Your Progress
The only way to know if you’re meeting your goals and truly making improvements to your company culture is to regularly assess your efforts. Continuously ask your employees for individual feedback and measure employee engagement through pulse surveys to gather company-wide data. Because culture evolves as your team and company do, it’s important to continually track your progress and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.
8 Tips for How to Improve Company Culture
1. Create Opportunities for Employees to Connect
Even in a remote work environment, employees need to be able to communicate and connect with one another outside of just work. Creating opportunities for employees to connect develops trust, improves the company culture and increases employee retention.
To make those relationships a priority, leaders can host team lunches and activities like a remote movie watch party or a virtual escape room during work hours. Leaders can also encourage bonding through smaller actions like taking the time to chat with an employee after lunch or asking an employee about themselves during a one-on-one. Those activities show that non-work-related tasks are just as valuable. Beyond that, shared Slack channels on non-work topics and remote gatherings can also create spaces for employees to chat about something other than the project deadline.
Just make sure there are boundaries and that the events are inclusive. Not every team outing needs to be a happy hour or sports event.
There can also be a tendency to equate employee relationships to being “a family,” but that can introduce a host of misunderstandings and challenges, Fontes said. She’s seen companies where they use “family” as an excuse to send emails and texts after work hours and ask employees for “favors” outside of their normal responsibilities. So it’s important to review how you frame employee connections and eliminate that phrase, Fontes said.
2. Help Employees Advance Their Careers
While celebrating employees and giving feedback is important, be sure to supplement positive recognition with opportunities for meaningful career advancement. The most common reason employees leave a company is for new career opportunities, according to Work Institute’s 2021 retention report.
Consider creating a transparent career growth plan. Chart what steps employees need to take to advance in their career and make their goals a part of one-on-one discussions. Those guidelines will also hold managers accountable for who they’re promoting and why. When career growth opportunities are limited, providing employees with training opportunities can also be a great way to signal you are invested in them, Caitlin Golden, digital marketing agency closerlook’s VP of HR, previously told Built In.
3. Make Transparency a Priority
Employee satisfaction is greatly affected by the ability to trust senior management. Build trust with employees and cultivate a reputation as a trustworthy employer by increasing transparency across the company. Prioritize top-down communication by keeping employees informed about the business through company-wide emails and timely updates during town hall meetings.
Establish an open-door policy by making members of the C-suite more accessible through office hours and small group discussions. In a hybrid or remote workplace, you can over-communicate your thought process with employees, set up daily check-ins and offer open virtual meeting hours.
4. Create an Employee Recognition Program
Employees who hardly receive recognition throughout the year from someone in a leadership position are 74 percent less likely to remain at their company the next year. Show employees you value and appreciate their contributions to your company by recognizing top performers through employee spotlights.
Openly recognizing employees who reflect company values reinforces the values and culture that you want to create. Give teams the tools and resources they need to recognize their colleagues. This can be done through anonymous nominations that lead to a company-wide shoutout or through internal communication channels. Doing so increases camaraderie between employees, encourages more standout performances and convinces high-performing employees to stick around.
5. Give Employees Flexibility
Life happens and knowing they can count on their employer to be understanding and accommodating makes employees feel valued. Beyond that, providing stipends that employees can use to address their mental and physical health and even set up their own workspace can go a long way to improving the remote work experience for employees.
This leads to higher levels of employee engagement, which positively impact productivity and profitability.
6. Celebrate Team Wins
Equally as important as recognizing individual contributions is celebrating company wins and milestones as a team. Employees adopt an owner’s mentality when they’re made to feel like part of the broader strategy team, and including them when celebrating major achievements improves transparency within the company.
7. Prioritize Timely and Respectful Feedback
Employees crave constructive feedback, and simply implementing annual reviews isn’t making feedback a priority. In fact, most employees find annual performance reviews to be ineffective: 92 percent of employees want feedback more than just once a year. Encourage managers to incorporate more regular feedback sessions into their team dynamic so feedback is timely and employees can act on it.
Additionally, ask for feedback from employees more often. If you launch a new initiative or implement new software, ask your team for their thoughts shortly thereafter. Doing so will ensure that the decisions you make are benefitting your company culture and will make employees feel valued by their employer.
8. Address Mental Health
Employee burnout is on the rise. Job website Indeed surveyed more than 1,500 employees in March 2021 and found that 52 percent of respondents were feeling burnt out. That feeling is even more common among people working virtually, according to the survey.
As a result, it’s more important than ever to address employee health and wellness within your culture. A helpful place to start is to review the goals you set for employees. While it’s important to be ambitious, your expectations need to be reasonable and flexible. Reaching them shouldn’t come at the cost of an employee’s personal life.
It’s also important for managers to create space for employees to tend to their mental health. Incorporating wellness days, increased paid time off and flexible work hours into your benefits package can all go a long way toward improving employee work-life balance.
Finally, make personal check-ins a part of one-on-ones. When every conversation is about work and productivity, it can make employees feel like they aren’t doing enough. Carving out time to ask your employees how they’re doing gives them the space to vocalize when they feel overwhelmed or need some assistance.
Regardless of where you’re starting from, it’s important to remember that you can improve company culture. Ensure you have the full support of your leadership team, HR department and employees. Collaborating with all levels of your organization is more likely to produce a company culture where all of your team members feel valued and welcome.
Brian Nordli contributed reporting to this story.
Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.