Do employees at your company get along well? Do they interact with each other outside meetings, spend lunch breaks with each other, hang out after work? Are they comfortable approaching management or executives with new ideas about products, strategy, or other business elements?
The answers to these questions will depend on what type of company culture your organization has developed.
Defining Company Culture
Company culture is the way an organization’s people act, treat each other, and think about their workplace. You may also think of it as the company’s personality or social environment. Although it is mostly unspoken and informal, it can be influenced by such things as formal company values and mission statements. Language used in all company communications and promotional materials will help set the cultural tone, as will the way management talks to lower ranking workers. Here are lots of different ways to think about company culture.
Impact of Culture
Whether or not a company has intentionally created a culture, it has one. Every company does. It begins to develop from the time a company is founded and continues to grow and change each time a new employ is added to the roster. Realizing this and taking steps to build the company culture you want allows you to take control of a powerful aspect of your organization. A great company culture helps attract new employees who fit your company’s mission and can best help you accomplish your goals. It helps retain the fantastic workers you already have and keep them productive and happy. It can even help with marketing. Think about Google and Apple. You have probably heard about the impressive work environment these companies provide their employees. Employees who can honestly talk about how great it is to work for you are wonderful advertising.
Even the type of people hired to the company helps build culture, as not all will necessarily adapt to whatever culture they find. Team culture has become the prevailing company trend since the turn of the century. Employees are usually encouraged to work together and approach superiors with ease when they have questions or ideas. Usually this leads to a comfortable, relaxed culture in which sociable people thrive. Some people prefer to work alone and flourish in an environment that allows them to do so; a team building culture would not fit their style. Various cultures fall between these two extremes, and many other factors come into play to define a particular company’s unique personality.
The Good and the Bad
It’s usually easy to tell when you have good company culture. Essentially, everyone is happy any productive, and the company’s needs are being met. Some signs that your culture is positive and healthy are:
- High energy — Employees are willing to take on new projects and help each other out for the betterment of the business.
- Accepting new ideas — Workers embrace and even enjoy implementing new plans and ways of doing things. They contribute additional ideas rather than complaining.
- Respect and kindness — You see people treating each other at least politely if not with friendship. There is no gossip or malicious behavior.
- Low turnover — When many employees have been there a while, it shows the company is good to its people and that those people believe in the company. It also helps create a sense of job security for others, which helps build positive culture too.
- Good humor — If you hear your employees laughing and see them greeting each other with smiles in the morning, that’s a sign they are getting along well.
- Stockpile of resumes — Having plenty of people who want to work for you can mean that you have built up a reputation as a great place to work, for more reasons that just a good salary and benefits.
It might be harder to notice (or admit) that your culture isn’t doing so well. Some signs that your company culture needs improvement are:
- Frequent complaints — This one seems obvious. If workers are letting you know they are unhappy, something needs to change.
- Lack of productivity — Are your company goals not being met? Or perhaps you expected improvement, but numbers are barely holding steady? Poor company culture may help explain why.
- Low engagement — Perhaps your weekly meeting was nearly silent, or you asked for email feedback and received only a few replies. This usually happens when employees feel like their voice doesn’t matter, and they’re only coming to work for the paycheck. Not every CEO wants an open door policy with entry-level workers, and that’s okay, but every worker should know that their voice is valuable. If employees are unwilling to share ideas in any setting, it’s a sign that they don’t think they will be taken seriously or treated respectfully.
- High turnover — If your workers are jumping ship, they may be leaving for a company with better personality. If you’re seeing a need for a lot of terminations, perhaps it’s because these employees were not productive within the current company culture.
- Lack of patience — When employees and leaders make decisions without considering long-term effects or waiting for input from others, the company may suffer. This can happen when people don’t value their coworkers or their company mission.
- Cliques — Small, tight-knit groups in organizations are dangerous because they can prevent all employees from receiving necessary information and providing input on weighty decisions.
- Lack of empathy — Being able to understand the position of others is a core value of many companies, so when employees begin to act without empathy, doing what benefits themselves most and blaming others for mistakes, it should send up a company culture red flag.
- Decrease in leadership quality — Good leaders don’t just give orders, point out mistakes, and solve simple problems. They might do these things, but they also set examples for attitude and behavior and keep people involved in their work.
- Open disrespect — No one should fear being ridiculed, ignored, or otherwise disrespected in their place of work. If employees aren’t treating each other or their superiors with respect, company culture needs some attention.
Improve Company Culture
You can’t entirely determine your own company culture; it’s as organic as the people who make up your business. But you can do a lot to build the culture you’d like to see.
- Assess and set a goal. Determine the type of culture you have and the type you want. This article shows the four main categories of company culture. Perhaps you’ve been operating with a strict Hierarchy but you’d like to transition to a more innovative Adhocracy. Or, you may have structured an environment for a family-like Clan culture, but most of your employees are leaning toward a competitive Market culture. All four have benefits and drawbacks; just choose the culture that best fits your business.
- Attitude reflects leadership. Whether you’re a company executive or a shift supervisor, you’re responsible for the culture of your team, and your own actions and attitude have a lot of influence over it. Stay upbeat and focused if that’s how you expect your employees to be. Respectfully address behavior that is out of line with your expectations. Be honest and open with those you manage if you want to build trust and communication.
- Focus on your mission. People are driven by purpose, so it’s important to establish your company’s reason from the moment you set out as a new organization. If you didn’t do this, it’s not necessarily too late. Take time to bring company leaders together and establish common language for a mission statement. Ask employees for input. Get everyone on the same page and keep them there. Make sure everyday actions reflect your organization’s purpose.
- There is value in values. Establish a list of core principles that every member at every level of your organization does—or should—share. Once you have them, implement them into different aspects of your programming. Use them when hiring new talent. Remind employees of them when you come to bumps in the road. Make them a unifying force in your culture.
- Place shapes culture. If you’re just beginning your company and you have some freedom in selecting your location, consider how the culture of the city or neighborhood might affect your business. Choose architecture and interior design that facilitates the level of socialization you like. If you don’t have that much freedom, think about what changes you can make in your current space. Don’t seclude executives in high-level, walled-off offices if you want them to seem accessible. At the very least, open the door, and encourage other employees with offices to do the same. Keep snacks, seating, and small kitchen appliances available in a common area. Allow unoccupied meeting rooms to be used as common work areas for employees who would like a change of scenery and some company. Provide comfortable furniture and encourage reasonable breaks. Some of this may sound expensive, but the benefit to your culture and productivity will be well worth the investment.
- Hire them right, treat them well. Not just any employee whose resume checks your boxes will benefit your company culture. Behaviors and attitudes are hard to change, so look for the right character in your new hires. Try to imagine how they would fit in with the team—or better yet, have some team members interview them after they’ve gone through one or two initial interviews. Once you’ve found the right person, make sure they get the benefits, compensation, and job support they need to keep them with your company, especially if you’ve had issues with high-turnover before. Listen to their concerns and address them as best you can. If you can’t, at least explain why not.
- Take honesty seriously. Nothing matters more to company culture than trust. You cannot demand truthfulness of your workers without providing it to them, so answer questions and tell the whole story even when it’s difficult to do so. Then, take steps to build employees’ trust in each other so that there are no little spats about who took whose lunch out of the break room fridge or frantic name-labeling sessions because supplies have gone missing. Don’t blame those who leave their sandwiches or staplers unattended; remind employees that respect and trust are important, and taking others’ property without permission is never okay.
- Maintain self-awareness. As tempting as it often is to put up a strong front, employees respect leaders who show an understanding of their weaknesses. This helps workers be more comfortable admitting their weaknesses, too, so they may be less likely to take on projects they can’t handle, which can help avoid costly mistakes. Ultimately, everyone feels less pressured, more encouraged, and more successful.
- Find your cheerleaders. Most companies already have a few workers who go above and beyond usual levels of job enthusiasm. They get excited at announcements, support their coworkers’ initiatives, and constantly demonstrate an understanding and belief in the company’s core purpose. Build your company culture around these cultural advocates or cheerleaders. They can tell you what matters to them in their career environment, what is going well, what needs improvement, and what other employees have said to them. Support these people just as they support your company, and make them a constant developer of your culture as your brand grows.
- Encourage optimism. Disbelief is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Use posters, slogans, cheers, and anything else you can think of to keep workers looking at the future with promise. Organize events to lift spirits. Get team members and leaders to write positive notes to those having a hard time. Reward employees with the best attitudes. Find out what you can do to improve attitudes of pessimistic employees instead of reprimanding them.
- Teach and learn. Let everyone take a role in continuing professional development. Allow all employees to lead seminars on the skills at which they excel, if they would like to do so. Let them research new industry developments on their own as part of their job roles and periodically report their findings to their teams or the whole company—whatever makes the most sense. And of course, provide opportunities to attend more traditional professional development as well, including certification or college courses relevant not only to their current positions, but to their professional aspirations as well.
- Tell your story. A company’s unique history can be a powerful unifying force. Through it, workers can find ways to relate not only to the organization’s values, but to each other. Regularly revisit the company’s past, and let employees participate by presenting what they see as their own contribution to the company narrative.
Here are some links for more information about the tips above:
- 6 Steps to Building a Strong Company Culture
- 5 Building Blocks of a Great Company Culture
- Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture
- What Is Company Culture, and How Do You Change It?
- 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures
Internal Newsletter Culture
An internal employee newsletter is a fantastic tool you can start using right now to help build the company culture you want. In fact, a newsletter goes a long way in accomplishing most of the above tips for improving culture.
You can use a newsletter to survey your employees to find out what type of culture they think you have and what type they want. Ask what signs of a good or bad culture they see in their daily routines. Surveys are good for getting input on a mission statement and values if you don’t already have those. Also, request suggestions for what physical changes to make in the workspace to make it more employee-friendly (like rearranging furniture, adding a common work station, getting a coffee maker, etc.).
Use a newsletter to publish leadership columns. These might be articles written by management and executives to foster transparency between them and their employees, or it might be articles about good leadership qualities and how the company has displayed them well or could display them better.
Review you mission and values in a newsletter, especially when things are getting off track. Spotlight employees and events that do a particularly fantastic job of living out your company’s ideals.
Advertise a safe space or an anonymous line for submitting complaints or suggestions through the newsletter. You can’t address concerns that you never hear, but not everyone will always feel comfortable coming to a superior to let them know something is wrong. Letting them know you’re listening and then showing them—either through action or through another newsletter article—that you’ve taken their words seriously can help build trust and positive culture.
Hard times in your company often mean explaining mistakes while trying to maintain morale. Newsletters can help with both. If you’ve committed a blunder, don’t hide from your workers: write an article explaining what happened and why. This helps build trust and a culture of admitting mistakes in order to learn from them. For boosting morale, add an inspirational quote each issue, include entertaining elements, and allow employees to make their own contributions.
Include your cheerleaders in your newsletter. They’ll likely want to be involved somehow, so if they’re not already the editors, make sure they’re regular contributors. Have them write positive messages in addition to keeping regular news upbeat.
Make a learning corner in your newsletter so employees can share their insights, work-related or not, and use this space to announce professional development opportunities.
Finally, a newsletter makes the perfect medium for storytelling, both past and present. You’ll be recording your history as you make it, and you’ll have a built-in way to revisit your beginnings or let employees make contributions.
Internal newsletters are really an indispensable element of company culture building. Take the first step today to integrate these elements into your newsletter or start a company publication.