Throughout my career I’ve come across business leaders whose attention one day turned to company culture. Soon afterwards, news would filter down from the boardroom that employees should expect to see some ‘exciting changes’ happening around them, and that these developments would make the working day not just vaguely better, but joyful and productive.
Such grand intentions are great for creating intrigue and anticipation. But building a successful culture that works for the long term, boosting talent engagement and retention, can only happen if several key elements exist as part of an implementation strategy.
Three crucial pillars form solid foundations for any good company culture: a roadmap to go with the leadership’s vision; middle management who can champion the culture daily across the organisation; and a wider workforce who fit the culture, feel enthused and have their ideas heard.
Have a roadmap, not just a vision, for your culture
Company culture comprises many different strands that tie together every organisation and create an atmosphere experienced daily by the whole workforce: leadership, values, attitudes, methods and traditions, to name a few.
The breadth of these inputs is a key factor in culture differing greatly from one business to another. It’s also the reason why culture shouldn’t be taken lightly and simply allowed to develop on its own.
It’s no good proclaiming, “We want this to be our culture”. A roadmap is required, and that takes time and thought to develop, let alone implement.
If you’re seeking to reshape or build a brand-new culture, consider first where your company is at present. What new initiatives must be devised and rolled out as steppingstones to the culture you ultimately want?
It might seem a huge task – particularly if your organisation is multi-territory or global. I’m a big fan of the approach revealed in Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map. It offers a strategic approach to assessing the needs of each market, and how culture can and should be applied locally. The system takes into account how decisions are made, whether trust is earned through tasks or personalities – and lots of other insights I keep returning to as our business builds an international culture.
Culture is a living, breathing thing and must be viewed as such. And for that to work, you need the buy-in of people at all levels of your workforce.
Beware a bad apple rotting your culture
Choosing the right individuals who fit into and share your cultural vision is paramount. We’re building an entrepreneurial and creative culture, so we aim to hire people who align with our approach.
That means ensuring the interview process is geared to directly asking questions about the type of culture someone can fit into and potentially even improve. If someone obviously has the right skills for a role with us, we then allow a few people to quiz them about their thoughts on our culture.
I believe it’s only fair to honestly discuss with candidates whether the opportunity is right for them, or if they might find a better home elsewhere.
Meanwhile, a successful culture doesn’t just mean hiring well; it also means promoting wisely.
I’m sure we’ve all worked at firms where one person in particular seemed intent on climbing the ladder at everyone else’s expense. There really is no room for this type of personality when you’re looking to create a harmonious culture.
It only takes one bad apple to rot your team, damaging productivity and performance for their own ends. Consider who’s in post and how things should change if there’s evidence this is an issue.
Give all of your people a say in your culture
While culture is usually driven from the top of a company to begin with, there will almost always come a time when a bottom-up approach becomes part of the conversation.
As your business grows that means letting more junior members of the workforce have their say. Allow them to feedback on and contribute to your culture, keeping it under constant review, involving them at every turn. Great culture evolves and improves with many voices.
A couple of years ago, we embarked on what we deemed a small cultural project: a ‘company heroes advent calendar’. We invited our employees across the world to nominate individuals who they believed were critical to the success of the business, whether through their day-to-day work or a specific action.
We were thrilled with an unexpected level of engagement. Colleagues got in touch from across the world, waited (im)patiently for the daily announcement, and interacted more than they had with any other initiative.
It was a great example of involving everyone in business culture. What’s more, it gave employees an insight into their counterparts in countries where they might not even have realised we operated. It also proved the importance of technology as a platform for culture – that was true when everyone needed to work remotely but will remain so in the long run.
Involving the wider workforce is key as the working world shifts post-pandemic. In particular, culture can be a dealbreaker for younger Millennials and Gen Z. They are the future of your business, so prompting them to engage with your business culture early – even at the interview stage – is critical.
Set out what they’ll get from joining – be that financial reward, the freedom to achieve, quick career progression for great work, or being part of something meaningful – and why the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere.
Consider also giving team members the chance to feed back on their bosses. This is scary – for all concerned – but valuable to test the temperature of who’s carrying your organisation’s culture with them in everything they do, and who must make changes to their own outlook.
Groucho Marx once famously quipped, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” The job of every organisation is to turn that sentiment on its head, and make your business a place where people are proud to work and play their part in building an unrivalled culture.
Camilla Andersen, Chief People Officer at Edisen