“When you're inside the fishbowl, you can't see how filthy the water has become. You've learned to swim through it,” explains Forbes Contributor, Liz Ryan. Just as we can become accustomed to a less-than-spotless home, so blind we can become to an uninspiring and murky atmosphere at work. Ignoring our company culture, however, has severe consequences to employees motivation, engagement, and connection to the larger organization. If you’re thinking to yourself, “That can’t be us, I can recite our company values from memory,” I’ll stop you right there. Unless you see each and every one of those values playing a role in employee hiring, development, and retention, they’re nothing but words on a poster. Let’s talk through ways driving culture intentionally impacts the employee experience.
Somehow, culture continues to be both an intangible concept and a corporate buzzword. Everyone wants to have and promote the best one, but few can actually define what theirs is. In reality, culture can be simply put as the self-sustaining pattern of behavior that determines how things are done. Notice this is “how things are done” not “how things are supposed to be done”. For this reason, culture isn’t a company practice that can be blueprinted and disseminated. It has to be built and maintained at all levels. It can’t be introduced upon hire and then forgotten. It has to be integrated into development initiatives, leadership programs, and employee engagement efforts. As Liz Ryan puts it, “We’re talking about your ability to manage the human energy in your shop as capably as you manage operational, financial, and marketing issues.”
Despite the immaterial nature of culture, it should be no surprise that paying particular attention to internal company culture has been proven to improve business outcomes and engagement. According to Strategy+Business, “Of the companies that reported consciously using elements of their culture in [our] 2013 Global Culture & Change Management Survey, 70 percent said their firms achieved sustainable improvement in organizational pride and emotional commitment.” Culture is a clear differentiator, as firms that don’t incorporate these elements reported only 35 percent improvement in pride and commitment. Strategy+Business elaborates, “When positive culture forces and strategic priorities are in sync, companies can draw energy from the way people feel. This accelerates a company’s movement to gain competitive advantage, or regain advantages that have been lost.”
So, we know it’s important, we know it has to come from the ground up, and we know it has to be intentionally incorporated into our company practices, especially as it relates to the employee lifecycle. How do we do it? Let’s expand on some of the suggestions highlighted in our Employee Success Playbook:
Clearly communicate your values to all employees, and highlight examples of employees exemplifying those values.
Most companies today have clear values, or at least a mission statement, articulated to all employees. What’s most important about this statement, though, is the latter part. We must recognize employees who exemplify those values. Whether that is through a public contest each month, in team newsletters, or simply ensuring those workers know their efforts don’t go unnoticed in one-on-one conversations, we must intentionally highlight the members of our organization who practice what is preached.
Keep your mission statement, cultural values, and exemplars of culture in a frequently visited, easy to access digital space.
You have your company values showcased throughout your corporate headquarters. This is a start, but what about employees you have in the field? Remote workers? Your written components of culture such as your mission statement, values, vision, etc. should all be available to your employees by whichever media and systems they use most frequently. That could be your intranet, your LMS, your performance management software, and so on. Make it easy for your workers to find out what your organization stands for.
Assess potential employees for cultural fit, and highlight which traits or values align with your organization’s culture. Reference this information on an ongoing basis.
It’s as important to ensure exemplars of your culture are on the interview panel as it is to pick candidates who seem like they’d be a good cultural fit to your team. Invite high-performing, professional, and engaged workers to be a part of the interview process, as these employees will be the best judges of character for team fit. You likely have someone in mind when you think about these facets of your team members. Why do they come to mind? What traits make them exemplars of your culture? Make a note of these, and again, recognize them.
Promoting a company culture that resonates with employees at all levels can be difficult, but when leaders and workers feel a connection to the larger organization and know their efforts to “walk the talk” are recognized, improved engagement and retention will follow. A Columbia University study recently suggested that the likelihood of employees leaving an organization with rich company culture is just 13.9 percent, while the probability of job turnover in poor company cultures is 48.4 percent. With employee morale and retention at stake, organizations can no longer afford to be passive observers as their culture unfolds. They need to drive it with intention.