How would you describe the culture at your company? Maybe it’s really strong – employees feel appreciated, engaged and can see a path to personal and career advancement. Or maybe it’s really poor – staffers don’t trust their managers, creativity is stifled and morale is low. It’s likely your firm’s culture falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. So how can you move the needle forward?
The first thing that’s important to recognize is that a having a few pizza parties, happy hours and field days will not improve core culture. Food and games make people happy, but distractions can’t replace values. Consider this analogy: exercising three hours every day for one week might take off a few pounds, but exercising for 30 minutes, four days a week for a year is a much healthier approach. In the same way, improving culture takes consistency, not occasional ramp-ups. You’re not trying to hit quotas – you’re trying to make your company a better place to work.
To make good culture a real part of your company’s identity, there are three things that must happen. First, someone needs to be in charge of actually improving culture. One employee is fine, or a culture committee with a point person can work, too. This responsibility shouldn’t automatically fall on the head of human resources. Instead, consider creating a new role and title – like chief culture officer – for a top, respected employee. Show your staff this position matters and you’re taking culture seriously. Whatever you do, don’t tack on this task to a person who already has 100 other projects in front of them.
Second, develop a progression plan for each employee. This requires sitting down individually with workers and asking them what they want to achieve. Don’t make this visit about company goals – the focus should be on what staffers would like in their future. Everybody has different career dreams that motivate them. Some people want to know how they can earn promotions, while others are interested in learning and training. It’s important to some employees to work from home and have expanded vacation time, while others prioritize a heftier paycheck. The worst mistake you can make as a boss is to leave your employees feeling stuck in their jobs, with no route to something better. How can you know what they value if you don’t talk to them?
The final point is one that can’t be overstated: good culture is driven by good company leaders. Bosses that listen, that are transparent, that show gratitude, and that stick up for their employees instill a work environment that people enjoy. Bosses that motivate through fear, micromanage every assignment, and lighten their own load by over-delegating will never have respect, will foster resentment and will destroy culture. Remember, as well, that your personality and demeanor matter, too. It’s far better to project a slight sense of vulnerability in front of employees than to appear arrogant and unapproachable.
Prioritizing these three areas will no doubt strengthen your firm – not just your culture, but your entire organization. Falling short in these areas will at best lead to disharmony, and at worst total failure.