3 Steps for Advancing Company Culture

In part two of our three-part series on culture, we highlight how successful companies build and shape culture intentionally to create a competitive advantage.

Click Here to Read Part One: Improving Company Culture Will Grow Your Bottom Line

As discussed in part one of this series, culture is strongly defined by company values. Culture is reinforced when the values are used to guide decisions and behaviors. Once you’ve committed to acting according to your values, the next step is to build upon the key elements that elevate your culture.

Creating and reinforcing your workplace culture are especially important in today’s world, where consumers have so much visibility and insight into companies both public and private. Thanks to the internet, a company’s cultural issues are no longer observed only by its employees, but rather are spread far and wide via social networks and career review websites like Glassdoor. Consider the following excerpts from employer reviews, both found online, and which you’d rather see associated with your business:

The office environment and team are all really supportive and work hard; you can feel the passion when you walk into the office and can see that people care about the success of the company. I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of different projects and with a lot of teams to find what I’m passionate about…. It’s okay to fail, and as long as your [sic] innovating or trying a new way to do something, managers are quick to help you up.”

“There’s no executive alignment which causes unnecessary fire drills. Employees have no autonomy; must be in building 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and can’t work from home. There’s a badge report – you must be INSIDE the building by 9am everyday with no exceptions otherwise that’s cause for termination.”

If you have a strong culture, this increased visibility will work to your advantage, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. Companies with solid reputations benefit from higher quality candidates. Furthermore, high-quality individuals place a value on culture and mission as much as they do on salary which levels the field for companies with smaller budgets to compete for the best candidates. Companies attract the talent they deserve, so a great culture can elevate a company that may not be able to compete in other ways.

Three Key Steps for Advancing Company Culture

Step 1: Ask and Analyze

Every company has a unique culture. That culture is not defined by one single decision maker, but rather by the collective experience of every individual within the organization. The first step in evolving your culture and taking it to the next level is to evaluate how people are currently experiencing it.

Based on your experiences at your organization, ask the following questions:

  • How do your employees describe your current company culture?
  • What has shaped the culture?
  • In what ways is the culture reinforced?
  • How would you like the culture to evolve?
  • Are there elements or behaviors that are contradictory to the culture you have?

There are many methodologies for evaluating your company culture. At Notogroup, every year we perform an internal questionnaire where we survey our team on our mission, values statement, and culture. At a follow-up meeting that involves the entire team, we report our findings and assign committees to create a strategy for improving upon our weaknesses and for reinforcing our strengths. This method works great for a team our size, as it allows everyone to be part of the process and take ownership in defining and reinforcing our company culture and values.

To see how a larger company might gather information while being inclusive of their entire team, examine how Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, took steps to understand what caused the company’s recent culture issues and used employee feedback to define a new culture. Khosrowshahi put out the call for employees to publicly submit their ideas and to vote on each other’s submissions through an online forum. Additionally, he hosted over 20 focus groups with employees to understand what about Uber’s culture was valued and productive and what had to change.

Keeping your employees engaged creates a “bottom up” experience that leads to full company buy-in and agreement, which keeps everyone engaged with the culture in a consistent and meaningful way.

Step 2: Communicate and Implement

After completing your survey, it’s time to act on the information gathered to create or refine your vision for how to intentionally elevate the culture for the benefit of the employee experience and company performance. After Khosrowshahi collected and analyzed Uber’s employee submissions and feedback, he created a list of “cultural norms” that was then shared with every employee. These new “norms” reflected employees’ desires for inclusion, teamwork, collaboration and integrity. Khosrowshahi not only shared the new cultural vision internally at an all-hands meeting, but published them publicly in an article on LinkedIn where it has been liked and shared over 5,000 times.

If you don’t clearly communicate and live your cultural standards, the definition will warp from person to person, creating an inconsistent and inauthentic experience.

Most importantly, connecting culture drivers to your business plan can be especially powerful. For example, REI is committed to helping people tap into the joy, renewal and connection that comes from spending time outside with friends and family. Every year on Black Friday, one of the largest shopping days in the United States, REI closes their doors and encourages employees and would-be bargain shoppers to #optoutside instead, staying true to their culture and values by promoting outdoor recreation and a healthy lifestyle.

Step 3: Engage and Activate

Everyone knows that actions speak louder than words. Culture initiatives can lose steam if not fully supported and reinforced by the actions and behaviors of top leadership. Drew Houston, the CEO of Dropbox, illustrated this perfectly in a recent interview with Inc. Magazine. Justin told the story of when he was late for an all-hands meeting that was about being on time. After the meeting, an employee confronted Houston about his hypocrisy, how it felt the rules didn’t apply to him. Justin realized that, “We can write down all the pretty words about our culture and values that we want, but people will pay 1,000 times more attention to what you do as a leader. And it’s all these little second order effects, things that you might not even notice if you’re not paying attention, that really set the standards for the team.”

In addition to actions reinforcing culture, engagement with the company values can also be sparked through the physical design of your space as well as the technologies and systems you provide for communication, learning, and follow through. Building a culture takes effort, it is not something you can visit once or twice a year and then forget about. For a really in-depth study on how to create a successful culture, we recommend checking out Patty McCord’s critically acclaimed new book, Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility. As the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, McCord shares what she learned there about building high performance professional environments where employees can thrive.