A 6 step recipe for company culture

A 6 step recipe for company culture

Every company has a culture – some have reasonably consistent ones and some have cultures that vary widely between geographies and divisions. Companies that invest in attempting to direct and steer their cultures are most certainly the ones most successful in creating something more consistent across the organization.

extract of a note about Zenefits culture
Not every business starts from a great place in developing their culture as this extract from an email sent by the Director of Facilities & Workplace for Zenefits shows.

Recognizing that you can’t set your culture but can only influence it is the first step, really, in making a serious organizational commitment to improving the culture in your business. And it’s critically important. It’s difficult to imaging building an employee engagement strategy on a company with a weak or bad culture for example.

Let’s look at a 6 point plan for building a strong company culture.

  1. Have clearly stated values
    Your values are what you want your people to live every day and what you have singled out as the key behaviors that you want to value. You should recruit, reward, promote and recognize against these values and you also need to communicate them clearly – more than just stating what they are you need to make sure you explain what you mean by them. If you don’t have good values already then the best way that I’ve found to develop a set is to work with your own employees and run a project to get their input. If you’d like to know how we built the values over at Reward Gateway and see how they are documented then you can get a free download of the RG Culture Book here.
  2. Your public brand
    In HR we sometimes talk about building an employer-brand and thats fine. But your public brand will have a huge amount of investment behind it and it will be something that your staff see all the time. People want to be proud of the place they work at and there is some research that suggests that millennials (Gen Y) have an even stronger requirement for that than the generations that went before them.
    In HR I would’t expect you to be able to change or influence the public brand of your company, bt what you should do is leverage it and make sure that everything you do internally has authenticity with that. Its important for your people to know that they stand for something and that the organization is true to itself.
  3. Core beliefs
    Organizations have things that they believe in. So at Reward Gateway we have a lot of stated and well-publicized beliefs internally, for example “we believe that employees don’t come to work to be sold to and thats why we never sell targeted marketing capability to third party insurance or other suppliers.” Again its all about alignment and authenticity. Your values are what you want your people to aspire to, to live every day. Your core beliefs are what the organization has adopted as its own truth – the things it wants to have and maintain as it develops. They’re like a guiding rod for innovation – by statin what your core beliefs are then if someone innovates on product or service in an area that challenges your core beliefs then everyone knows thats something that would beed careful analysis and discussion.
  4. Leadership
    Leadership is so key. People want visible and high quality leadership. When I talk to employees about workplace and culture the thing they talk about most often is the leadership in their organization, and often they complain it is lacking. I think visibility is really key – do you have visible leadership? As an HR person what can you do to increase the visibility of your leadership team and make sure they are connected to your people?At RG we run several internal blogs – I run a “What’s Glenn up to” blog where I put short articles up a couple of times a week. As a team we try and have high visibility – appearing in person, on video and online as often as we can. It’s never enough – however much you do people want more but you have to see that as a good thing and not something to withdraw away from.
  5. Management
    Leadership is key but your people spend more time within affected by their manager than they will with your senior leadership. If Leadership sets the tone and pace of the organization then management sets its daily rhythm and practice. Several studies over the years have said that more people leave their manager rather than the company. Some of those studies suffer from a muddle of who is management and who is senior leadership and I know of many examples personally of people who have tolerated bad management but the straw that breaks the camels back is when they lose confidence in the CEO.Whether people leave bad managers or bad leaders, the management issue remains. To foster a culture where employee engagement blossoms you need great managers who sensitively and expertly help people to do their very best work. An in HR we can influence that through management training, accreditation and standard setting.
  6. Operating Manual
    I’ve mentioned authenticity and coherence already in this article but its so important. Your “operating manual” is my generic term for the processes, templates, rules and instructions that you have in the company. This includes internal facing documents like your expenses policy and employee handbook, HR docs like your diversity statement but also your customer service and sales manual.If your values are saying “We trust each other” but your expenses policy treats everyone like a criminal then that lack of authenticity will be seen instantly by your staff. Ditto if you say “we’re customer-focused” but every page of the customer service training manual is about saying “no” to customer requests. The way you actually run your organization, the operating manual for day to day will have a very significant effect on your culture.

So they are my 6 go-to levers for influencing your culture. There are other contributors to company culture for sure, but these 6 are definitely amongst the first ones I look at when trying to influence.

Written by 

Glenn is an employee engagement and tech entrepreneur. He founded Reward Gateway, the HR technology company in 2006 and continues to lead it as CEO today.

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