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Lead Your Team Strategy

How to Improve Your Company Culture

image for nd3000 / Getty Images
nd3000 / Getty Images

Quality products, innovative marketing and booming sales are all valuable factors in measuring the success of a company. But who makes it possible for these successes to happen? Dedicated, happy employees who are committed to their organization's values and mission.

Employees are the backbone of your operation, and if they are unsatisfied, other areas of your business will suffer too. Conversely, a workplace where employees are engaged, feel they are supported by management and can collaborate with other departments will not only help you retain your top employees, it will help you attract new talent.

A recent international study reported that 77% of adults polled would consider a company's culture before applying for a job there. It's not only about who can organize the best happy hour or how many Ping-Pong tables you can fit into an open concept office – a positive company culture comes from the top and is enforced at all levels of the organization.

Here's how to ensure your company culture is positive and will help you retain top employees.

April Armstrong, CEO at AHA Insight, defines company culture as "the unwritten, unspoken norms that drive the behavior of how people work together, coexist together and get things done." Core values are part of these unwritten, unspoken norms, and, according to Armstrong, if there is a discrepancy between stated values and enacted values, your company will suffer.

One symptom is that your company is losing valuable talent. If you are losing valuable employees, the first step is to conduct an audit of your current company culture.

We've all heard the claims that hierarchies are out and flat structures are in. However, no matter your structure, the people at the top of your organization should pioneer culture shifts from within your organization. "Culture change needs to come from and be modeled from the top," Armstrong said.

It's important, however, that multiple employees be involved in discussions about company culture. "Diverse perspectives need a voice in shaping that culture," Armstrong said. "Really changing the culture … you need to model that accountability."

Ideally, a third party should be involved in a company culture audit. You can work with the individual to conduct a companywide survey, or if you can't afford a consultant, you can appoint someone in the organization who can distribute the survey to employees and collect the responses. (Be sure, though, that employees can provide their answers anonymously.)

Once you've conducted an audit, it can be tempting to move full speed ahead on implementing changes. However, real change doesn't happen overnight, and changing your company's culture can be time-consuming.

Change begins with understanding the different types of company culture and where your company fits – and doesn't fit – into each type.

"It's hard to typify company cultures," Armstrong said. "Cultures are an amalgamation of factors: environment, hierarchy, public versus private, decision-making processes, benefits and values."

Companies should understand how their unique identity will influence the transformation of the culture. For example, a company with nose-to-the-grindstone workload expectations might add benefits like catered food and in-house, high-tech coffee machines. On the other hand, a company that values work-life balance, like the flexibility to work from home, might not have as many benefits outside of standard health and life insurance benefits.

Changing your company's existing culture is not only going to be a time-consuming process, but it involves nearly every aspect of the organization.

Armstrong recommends these four strategies when changing your company's culture:

  1. Demonstrate to employees that their involvement is critical. Invite employees to share their thoughts both during company culture discussions and during day-to-day operations.
  2. Make sure management's actions don't clash with stated values. If the founder, CEO or other executives are not "walking the walk," employees will not be inspired to do so either.
  3. Align everything (department, initiatives, processes, etc.) to support company culture, and remind employees that they are invited to contribute to that culture through collaboration and innovation.
  4. Conduct periodic (preferably annual) culture audits. Don't wait until something significant happens (e.g., top employees quit) to evaluate if your efforts are working.

Once you've improved your culture, the next challenge is to maintain it.

You want to make sure a potential hire is a good fit for your company's culture, and vice versa. Poor fits can largely be sussed out during the interview process.

Armstrong recommends conducting a behavioral interview as part of the hiring process. Behavioral interviews entail giving a candidate a scenario or test to see how they respond. Depending on your company, this test can vary. Organizations where making decisions under tight deadlines regularly happens could design a test that candidates must complete within an hour.

Of course, beyond how candidates respond to behavioral assessments, you want to ensure that candidates understand your company culture. To do this, communicate your company's culture and core values in job postings.

Once you've chosen a candidate, don't let your efforts end there. As the employer, you should encourage growth, leadership development and top-down collaboration. Mentorship programs and regular goal-setting and evaluation are other examples of cultivating a positive workplace culture where talent will want to stay.

For current employees, Armstrong recommends ongoing communication. Join employees in the lunchroom, ask them questions or, if you have a contact in the organization, check in with them.

"A company has a healthy culture when it contributes to the creation and accomplishment of a company's vision, it attracts people into the company, it retains employees, and it focuses on employee engagement," Armstrong said.

Changing your company's existing culture takes hard work, perseverance and commitment. More than 50% of organizations struggle to retain valuable employees. Improving and maintaining company culture isn't just for show; it is a matter of survival for your organization.

Rebecka Green

In December 2018, Rebecka received her bachelor's in English composition and religion from Luther College. She currently resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she does communications and marketing for two local nonprofits. In her free time, she enjoys writing projects of all shapes and sizes and exploring her new home city. You can reach her by email at rebeckag@gmail.com or connect with her on Twitter.