How to build your corporate culture
How do you define company culture?
“Company culture”: we hear this term so often, but what exactly IS company culture? My good friend and specialist in internal communications Shel Holtz has the best definition of company culture I’ve heard to date: “the way we do things around here.” Easy to understand and undeniably true.
Some might say that company culture is a company’s personality. Is it relaxed, buttoned up or work-hard-play-hard? Others would say company culture is how people inside the organization get things done, while still others would consider it to be how the employees and management interact with those outside of the organization. If you go with “the way we do things around here,” one could argue that all of those elements contribute to the company’s culture.
Who owns the creation of culture?
Ah, therein lies the rub. In a recent study cited by the aforementioned Shel Holtz, HR professionals, business managers and front line employees each believed that they were the primary source of the company’s culture:
As Holtz goes on to remark:
The consequences of this disconnect are potentially massive. For example, acting on the belief that employees value the company’s focus on customers leaves front-line staff wondering why so little attention is paid to work-life balance. HR thinks they’re doing a great job with superior employee benefits and can’t figure out why engagement surveys scores are so low, while employees roll their eyes at pay disparities. We have long known that employee commitment begins with the belief that they’re being treated fairly—in compensation and opportunities to advance, for example. It’s nearly impossible to build a culture when employees believe they’re not being treated fairly.
At the root of culture is the health of internal communications. Are managers willing to give feedback to both the C-suite and to their direct reports? Is the CEO willing to show vulnerability? Are front-line employees rewarded for direct and honest communications with both managers and with the C-suite? Communications must flow freely, including top-down, bottom-up and peer-to-peer. And we must understand that everyone in the company defines the culture.
How to develop your corporate culture
John Tabis recently wrote in Fast Company about his three basic steps for developing an authentic company culture:
- Make it personal Too often a brand voice is flat or developed by management and doesn’t reflect the voice of the people who work for the company, day in and day out. What is your vision for changing the world? At Spoken, we recently engaged in a similar activity in our all-company meeting, where everyone from the receptionist to the CEO wrote down their grand vision for Spoken in a dream world. Everyone was engaged and everyone was excited about what Spoken’s great vision could be!
- Communicate that vision Now comes the hard part–how is that vision communicated? If you have a visionary like Steve Jobs at the helm, it’s easy. But what if your organization takes a more collaborative approach, like Zappos? Zappos has ten core values that its entire team is encouraged to live and breathe every day, and it hosts a “powered by service” library that every employee reads. Maybe you meet monthly or yearly to collaborate and engage everyone to brainstorm in how better to live your corporate vision.
- Put people first The best organization do this: they value their people over their vision. They believe that the vision won’t happen without their people, so their people come first. “We need to start treating people like human beings, not like cogs in a productivity machine, writes Tabis. “Look at the individual first and their role second and relate to employees on a more human level. When employees feel cared about as people, I’ve found they do their best work.”
If you don’t take the time to develop your culture and vision, it will happen on its own. And that culture might end up being “this company uses people and throws them away” or “this company values competition over quality.” Your culture is being developed as we speak: what do your employees have a voice in the creation of your culture?