Company culture is a tricky thing. We all agree on its importance yet nobody knows exactly how to cultivate it or even whether it should be cultivated?
Should we just let it emerge and develop? Probably not.
Developing a clear and consistent company culture is a crucial – and ongoing – task that every business should be prioritising.
Culture is everyone’s business but leaders have a responsibility to set the tone. If this doesn’t happen, employees will create their own, which often results in a culture that is not aligned to what the organisation is trying to achieve.
So why is culture important and what is the key to creating one that sticks?
Realising the value
While job security, pension plans and spot bonuses are all important aspects of holding a job, what actually impacts every single working hour are the smaller things – the messy desks, the fact that everyone is heads down wearing headphones, or that it’s too loud to have an important phone call.
Even the simplest changes can have a big impact. At Perkbox we have a ping pong table, a pool table, PlayStation and a chill out zone, all of which are very visible icons in the office and often cited as important when people describe their day.
Why? Because if your culture is bad people suffer and, as a result, employee retention in the business suffers too. You’ll notice people are unhappy and keep leaving.
While it’s not likely that anyone’s culture manifesto is ever “Make it toxic, see who stays”, there often isn’t a manifesto, or at least not a recent one, and that’s what leads to issues.
So who should you be looking at to inspire you? Leading by example may not always work.
Although benefits can be important, no company culture can rely solely on them to create a culture that sticks.
Top companies like Netflix, Google and Facebook are well known to the HR world for the standout retention and engagement rates they offer – two of the most reliable measures of company culture.
But let's face it, what often comes to mind when we think of these companies as ‘great places to work’ are the generous employee benefit packages they use as tools to help motivate their workforces into achieving their business goals – unlimited holidays, flexible working hours, snoozing pods.
However, it would be wrong to think that that.
They use much more than benefits to create the right culture. These companies have a clear mission and values, and empower their employees to be autonomous. They use a positive working environment to create a culture that helps people get things done and enjoy doing it.
Although benefits can be important, no company culture can rely solely on them to create a culture that sticks. More so because ‘less can often mean more’.
While on the surface generous employee packages can seem very attractive, they can actually turn out to be more restrictive than we think.
Take unlimited holiday schemes for example, too much choice can be confusing. When employees have too many choices it overwhelms them to the point where they become risk averse or unable to make a decision.
Building it right
Culture is what a group of bodies living together, end up creating between them. It’s how they interact and what they aspire to make out of their coexistence.
A healthy workplace culture should be made up of the sum total of a myriad of company traits, from transparent communication and coaching programmes, to staff empowerment, career progression schemes and perks.
A one-size-fits-all culture does not exist either and many of those that look inspiring are actually flawed anyway, so don’t try and copy one that you really like, instead align it to your business goals and people.
Create a programme that truly delivers the vibrant, happy and healthy employees that you envisage.
How? A good company culture starts with a vision or mission statement that articulates a company’s purpose. This orients every decision an employee takes. It should be followed by values that offer a set of guidelines on the behaviours and mindsets needed to achieve that mission.
And, of course, values are of little relevance if they are not enshrined in a company’s practice or if the people hired don’t share those or possess the ability and willingness to embrace them.
Making it ‘sticky’
Focus on the people. As increasing bodies of research find, it is not necessarily work-life balance, diet, exercise or anything in between that makes for a happy workplace. Create a programme that truly delivers the vibrant, happy and healthy employees that you envisage.
As mentioned earlier, it’s the smaller things that often really matter.
Key to this is to create a culture within which managers and workers appreciate, recognise and thank one another for their achievements. Trust, collaboration and employee visibility make employees feel like their voices are truly heard.
A simple way of doing this is to create a company ideas scheme where employees can suggest improvements for their department, for general operations or even for business direction. Should an idea be taken up, there could then be a reward for the employee who suggested it.
Take these principles on board and you’ll hopefully notice some improvements a few months down the line. And, above all, remember that culture starts with the behaviour of management. Too often people accept change needs to happen but believe it’s someone else that needs to change it. Only your actions and leading by example will bring about a change in the way your whole organisation behaves.
About Shaun Bradley
I am the Director of People and Organisation Development at Perkbox. We create employee engagement and customer engagement platforms. My job includes all of HR, engagement, recruitment, L&D, and leadership development. Perkbox provides perks for about 600,000 employees across the U.K.