Posted by Dave • April 29, 2019 (Last modified August 22, 2019) • 5 min read
A lot of organizations talk about culture. The CEO raves about it when they stand in front of the staff. HR strives to build an inclusive and open culture. Recruiters try to hire people who fit the culture.
But too many companies have an indistinct culture. One might exist in some form but it’s often a mishmash of ideas and concepts that formed over time. And often, the most vocal or longest-tenured employees make the biggest mark on it.
In other instances, individual teams or departments end up with their own unique cultures. There are different variations throughout the organization, resulting in employees have different experiences at work.
Many leaders have a rough idea of what they want the organizational culture to be but don’t go through the process of making it come to fruition. There is a lot of work to do when growing a business and completing such an exercise might not seem like a priority. However, cultivating a clear culture is important and can be accomplished with concerted planning and effort.
This is a key starting point. Your culture will never become a reality unless you first articulate what it is actually supposed to be. The best way to do so is to define a cultural mission statement (what your employees will experience) and values (what your employees should keep in mind as they go about their work).
If you haven’t done so yet, get your leadership team in a room for a brainstorming session. Ask the founder what they envisioned when they started the company. Open it up to thoughts from others. Get a discussion going.
Once you have everyone’s ideas on the whiteboard, identify the common themes. Use them to shape a two-to-three sentence mission statement. Refine and punch it up until you’re proud of what you have.
Next, give the mission statement context by coming up with five or so values to support it. These should be buzzwords or memorable phrases that pop into an employee’s mind every time they encounter a challenge or opportunity.
Now that you’ve defined your culture, you need to make it come to life. Some organizations simply add their mission statement and values to the website and employee handbook but there is much more that should be done to create a thriving culture.
Select a group of employees who will be responsible for owning the culture. The logical choice is to put your HR team in charge. However, you can also include employees who are passionate about what you’re trying to achieve and team members who epitomize your values.
The purpose of your culture committee is to hold the organization accountable to the specific tenets it committed to. They can come up with programs, initiatives, and events aimed at growing the culture. They can also be the point-of-contact other employees approach to share ideas concerning the culture.
Workplace praise tends to focus on employees completing a major project or closing a big deal. After all, it’s easy to see the tangible work people do that impacts the organization’s bottom line.
Your employees should also be recognized for doing the little things that make your company a great place to work. Make sure to give a shout out whenever someone goes out of their way to help a colleague, does work that isn’t assigned to them, or is a shining example of your values in any other way.
Additionally, your culture committee should encourage managers to give this type of praise. For example, they can remind team leaders to think outside the box when summarizing team wins in update emails or all-hands meetings.
As we mentioned at the start of this article, recruiters often talk about hiring people who are the right “culture fit.” It sounds good in theory but can do more harm than good if your organization doesn’t yet have a clearly defined culture. You run the risk of hiring candidates who resemble the employees you already have, resulting in a non-diverse workforce of people who think the same. Even worse, you can end up passing on a great candidate because you perceive someone else to be a better culture fit.
Once you have an established culture, you can work it into your job requirements. Interviewers can ask questions based on your values and learn how the candidate would incorporate them into their work. You’ll not only find people who align with your culture. You’ll also get fresh perspectives, resulting in your culture growing to new levels.
Performance reviews mainly cover how the employee does at accomplishing daily job responsibilities and long-term goals. However, there is also an opportunity to have a larger conversation about the employee’s presence in the workplace.
Ask managers to rate employees on each of your organization’s values and provide reasons and examples to support their scores. It’s always a good idea to ask raters to write notes on evaluations but is especially important when they’re assessing something as vague as adherence to values.
Culture doesn’t need to be a major focus of your performance reviews but it’s worth talking about after the primary criteria are covered. It reaffirms the organization’s commitment to the culture and helps employees remember what is expected of them beyond their job responsibilities.
With a little effort, your organization can make its intended culture a reality. First define what it is, then grow it by following the tips provided in this article.
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