The soul of any company is its organizational culture, the behind-the-scenes elements that shape the employee experience and make the company mission come alive.
Especially now in the era of remote and hybrid work, intentionally developing an inclusive, inspiring corporate culture is foundational for overall business success.
How do you go about creating a thriving company culture? It’s a challenge workplace leaders are grappling with across industries. According to the most recent reports, only 2 in 10 U.S. employees feel connected to their company’s culture.
That has significant implications for employee engagement, productivity, talent retention and a company’s bottom line.
A truly vibrant workplace culture is not something that can be instilled in a top-down approach, it requires genuine buy-in from every member of the organization. It’s not just something that matters for company leadership or HR – a positive organizational culture is everyone’s business.
The Main Elements of Organizational Culture
An organizational culture definition can be hard to pin down. In many ways, it’s the intangible essence of what makes one company different from the next. That makes it a powerful differentiator in the marketplace, both in terms of hiring and retaining employees as well as attracting loyal customers who may later become brand advocates.
Organizational culture goes far beyond top-down policies and procedures – it’s the collective consensus on the values, beliefs and behaviors that flow through every aspect of a company. Particularly during times of economic uncertainty, a strong company culture is critical to instilling a sense of trust and encouraging collaborative teamwork.
Shared Values and Beliefs
Organizational values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide decision-making at a company. It’s important for everyone, from C-suite leadership to the most recently hired employees to buy into values because they serve as the organization’s compass, creating a sense of unity and purpose. This is one element of company culture that matters most to employees.
Specific values will differ from company to company, depending on factors like industry, mission and vision. They can range from anything from integrity to innovation, from customer-focused to collaborative.
To give just a couple of examples, these are the values that Inspirus lives by:
- Life integration
Each shared value contributes to our overall company culture, influencing both employee attitudes and behaviors.
Norms and Behaviors
Cultural norms at a company are the unwritten rules and accepted practices that guide employee behavior. They are often pivotal in shaping organizational culture but can be challenging to control or change if they are not formally addressed.
It’s critical for leadership to intentionally and thoughtfully instill norms that reinforce company values and goals. By consciously establishing and nurturing these positive norms, organizations can foster a workplace culture that promotes desired behaviors like collaboration, accountability, ethical conduct and performance.
The Impact of Organizational Culture
Increased Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction
A positive, supportive workplace culture that aligns with employees' values helps to foster a sense of belonging and purpose. It gives employees a reason to feel pride in their work. And that, in turn, means they are more likely to contribute their best efforts.
Better Productivity and Performance
A company with a culture that promotes collaboration, knowledge sharing, communication and other team-focused values often experiences a boost in productivity. That’s because when employees are happy, supported and motivated – they can excel. That’s good for them as individuals and good for the company.
Improved Attraction and Retention of Talent
Organizational culture has a direct impact on talent acquisition and employee retention. A strong culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing can contribute to attracting top talent. When employees are satisfied at their jobs and feel valued, they are less likely to want to leave.
Instilling a sense of belonging and fostering a culture of recognition is good for business and good for the people behind the business.
Greater Innovation and Adaptability
Creativity, risk-taking and innovation don’t flourish without the right support. A culture that embraces new ideas and values continuous learning allows employees to pitch ideas, experiment and grow. That can be game-changing when it comes to addressing challenges and adapting to new disruptions in the marketplace.
How to Build a Positive Organizational Culture
Building a positive organizational culture that supports and uplifts every member of the team doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a deliberate and strategic approach. If you’re not sure where to start, however, focus on these key aspects.
Defining Core Values
Organizational values, as mentioned, are one of the key elements of workplace culture. Identifying which ones are more important to your company sets the foundation for culture to flourish.
Make sure to engage employees, leaders and other stakeholders in a collaborative process of determining which core values to focus on. For instance, host discussions or focus groups to gain insight into what matters most for your workforce. Surveys can also be a helpful tool to ensure alignment with those shared values.
Communicating and Reinforcing Culture
As you start to establish an overarching culture, communication becomes all the more important for nourishing that culture and ensuring sustainability. Whether through company-wide in-person meetings or internal communications channels, make sure it’s clear exactly how the desired culture translates into daily behaviors and decision-making.
From there, make sure to also reinforce that culture by prioritizing activities that boost employee engagement with your culture. Acknowledge and celebrate those who exemplify the desired culture and values. Recognize both individuals and teams who are contributing to a values-positive work environment with a formalized rewards program.
Leadership’s Role in Shaping Culture
In some ways, authentic workplace culture requires a ground up approach – it has to be lived, not preached. However, it’s critical that company leadership embody the culture through their actions and decisions, whether that means embracing innovation or fostering open lines of communication.
It also means empowering employees to live the culture with the right support systems that embrace diversity, reward value-aligned behaviors and prioritize all aspects of their wellbeing.
Managing Organizational Culture Change
1. Recognize the Need for Culture Change
The first, and most important, step to changing corporate culture is recognizing the need for adjustment. A toxic or hostile work environment can be pretty easy to spot. It makes life extremely stressful and challenging for people to work and leads to:
- High levels of burnout
- Low employee morale
- A negative reputation
More common, however, is a culture that’s generally positive but could benefit from some improvement. Signs that it’s worth tweaking your organizational culture could include:
- Struggles with collaboration, teamwork or communication
- A disconnect between organizational values and behavior
- Employee feedback about areas of improvement
Other times, external factors like a change in the industry landscape, evolving HR trends or new technologies may influence the need for change.
2. Plan and Implement Culture Change Initiatives
Establish clear goals and objectives around the outcomes of the desired organizational culture change. What are you hoping to achieve? Knowing where you want to end up is important to effectively implementing change.
Being specific about why the culture needs to change can help identify which areas to focus on first and align your company processes and systems with those changes.
3. Overcome Resistance to Culture Change
Resistance to change is a natural reaction but it can be one that’s detrimental to improvement. Whether the resistance stems from a fear of the unknown, a desire to stick to familiar routines and habits or concerns about job security, transparency around the changes goes a long way in instilling trust.
Engaging employees and stakeholders in the change process, by soliciting feedback and providing opportunities for input, can also help smooth the transition and increase a sense of buy-in.
FAQ’s About Building Organizational Culture
What are the most common challenges in building and sustaining a positive organizational culture?
Building a great company culture doesn’t happen overnight. The most common challenges include resistance to change from existing employees or leadership, ensuring consistency across different teams or departments and aligning the culture with the organization’s mission and values.
How can an organization measure and assess the impact of its culture?
Both qualitative and quantitative data can indicate the impact of an organization's culture. Employee surveys, focus groups and feedback sessions provide valuable insights into employee perceptions, while measuring employee engagement, job satisfaction and turnover rates sheds light on the health of the culture.
How can employee engagement technology help foster a positive workplace culture?
Employee engagement technology like the Inspirus platform provides key data and analytics helping you create a positive workplace culture. From recognition and rewards programs to communication and feedback tools, the right technology supports a positive and thriving workplace culture.