Dead Simple Ways to Improve Company Culture

10 Dead Simple Ways to Improve Your Company Culture

By George Dickson

You already understand the importance of having a strong company culture, but even with the desire to build one, it's not always obvious what steps to take.

Here are ten easy, actionable steps you can take today to improve company culture, both in the short and long term.

1. Embrace transparency

 
transparency
Transparency isn't just positive for employees. The effects of a transparent company culture impact the entire organization and the people it serves.

In a post she wrote about building a transparent company culture, TINYPulse's Sabrina Son provided a great explanation of why transparency makes such a positive impact:

"It's giving employees unfiltered insight into a company's operations and future. It's giving employees a voice. And most of all, it's trust."

Trust is truly the foundation of a great company culture.

Sabrina shared a few ways to improve the transparency in any organization, but one in particular stood out:

Implement modern communication and collaboration tools

Outdated communication tools can be a major barrier to transparency. It's imperative that your team has an easy and efficient way connect with one another and to share crucial information.

There are some excellent options available for any size company. Here are a couple great options to start with:

Chat and collaboration

Slack
HipChat
Yammer
Google Apps for Business

Video conferencing

Skype
Google Hangouts

Project management

Trello
Jira
Asana

For more examples of modern collaboration tools, check out this list the team at Time Doctor put together. In addition to improving your communication and collaboration tools, another crucial step to take is simply defaulting to transparency.

This is primarily a mental, rather than a logistical shift. Instead of asking "is it absolutely necessary to share this?" ask, "is it absolutely necessary to conceal this?" It's that easy.

Share success. If you're going to share one thing, start with this. Openly share the successes of the organization, its teams, and its individuals with everyone. It's a major motivation boost for the team to hear the positive results of their hard work.

Share challenges. You hired the best and smartest people in the room for a reason. By sharing the challenges your company faces, you're opening up the possibility for your team to offer brilliant solutions that you may never have considered.

This doesn't mean you need to share every minutia of every logistical challenge, but when it comes to solving complicated challenges, several minds are often more powerful than one.

2. Recognize and reward valuable contributions

 
employee rewards

Did you know that companies that have a recognition-rich culture also tend to have dramatically lower turnover rates?

In a seminal article he wrote for Forbes, Josh Bersin shared some astounding statistics from some recent research Bersin by Deloitte conducted, namely that the top 20 percent of companies with a recognition-rich culture have a 31 percent lower turnover rate.

How much would a 31 percent reduction in your turnover rate save your company? A lot more than you think. You can use this cost of turnover calculator to see the truth with your own eyes in a matter of seconds:

Cost of Turnover Calculator

If you'd like to see that kind of impact on your own turnover rate, you can. There are some great employee recognition resources available, and you can get started easily with this first step: identify specific behaviors and results aligned with your company's goals and values. Recognize and reward those behaviors as frequently as you can.

Now here's the key that most people miss: make it ridiculously easy for everyone on your team to do the same.

Employee recognition doesn't have to come exclusively from the top. It's often even more impactful when recognition comes from all around — from leaders, from peers, from everyone.

Peer-to-peer is the most effective method of infusing recognition into your culture.

Peer recognition dramatically reduces the managerial overhead required to make sure everyone's being recognized for the work they do. It's also a great way to organically build stronger relationships between coworkers  which is the next step towards building an outstanding company culture.

3. Cultivate strong coworker relationships

 
Work Friends
Having a strong relationships at work drives employee engagement, but it doesn't happen automatically. Building strong coworker relationships takes time and effort.

MindTools shared some great tips for building better relationships: schedule time for it, develop your interpersonal skills, show your appreciation, and be positive.

Employees shouldn't scatter the moment their leader approaches the water cooler.

In fact, some research suggests you could benefit from doing the exact opposite, and create spaces that encourage, and even generate what Ben Waber, Jennifer Magnolfi, and Greg Lindsay refer to as "collisions," in their fascinating Harvard Business Review piece, "Workspaces That Move People."

As they explain in the article:

"We’ve learned, for example, that face-to-face interactions are by far the most important activity in an office...our data suggest that creating collisions  chance encounters and unplanned interactions between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization  improves performance."

Think about both the physical and cultural environment in your own organization. Is it conducive to building strong relationships? If it isn't, make the shift. It's easy to engineer spaces and situations that promote coworker interaction.

4. Embrace and inspire employee autonomy

employee autonomyNo one likes to be micromanaged at work. It's ineffective, inefficient, and does little to inspire trust in your company culture.

Trust your employees to manage their responsibilities effectively, and let go of the idea that work has to happen a certain way at a certain time.

Intuit's "5 Ways to Give Workers More Autonomy (and Why It's Important)" mentions a few ways that you can inspire employee autonomy, like allowing employees to exercise choice, letting go of the 40-hour work week concept, establishing autonomous work teams, creating decision-making opportunities, and reining in overzealous bosses and coworkers who tend to hover or bully others.

Embracing your team's autonomy allows them to make the sometimes difficult, but incredibly rewarding leap from being held accountable to their responsibilities to embracing accountability as they take on, and own, initiatives.

5. Practice flexibility

Many companies have begun to understand the value of providing their employees with added flexibility. It can improve morale and reduce turnover.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, of nearly four thousand workers, flexibility proved to be one of the biggest drivers of retention:

Recognition's impact on retention

Workplace flexibility could mean many things, from a parent stepping out for a few hours to watch a school play, to work-from-home opportunities, or an employee taking a much-needed sabbatical.

If you're unsure how to begin implementing a policy of flexibility in your workplace, Gabriel Bristol's Business 2 Community article "Three Steps to Creating a Flexible Corporate Culture" is a great place to start.

6. Communicate purpose and passion

purpose-driven work
Do your employees see work as a way to make an impact? Are they passionate about the work that they do?

Imperative's "State of HR: Why You Should Fill Your Payroll with Purpose-Driven People" explains how purpose-driven employees find the act of work inherently meaningful and rich in purpose.

It's possible to find purpose in any type of work.

We met with Arthur Woods recently, who shared an excellent explanation:

“We find that purpose is derived from your relationships, your sense of impact, and your sense of personal growth,” he said. “If you think about it, those three things are possible in any job. Anyone can build deep, nourishing relationships; anyone can feel like their work matters, and anyone can push themselves to develop in any setting.”

There are no "purpose professions." You may need to find out what's important to your employees, and that goes back to forging relationships.

The better you understand their goals and aspirations, the better you can help your team to see the purpose in their work.

7. Promote a team atmosphere

Team Atmosphere
If you aren't already, it's time to think of your employees and your coworkers not as simply a group of other people you work with, but as integral members of your team.

In his post "The 4 Elements that Make a Great Culture" on the KISSmetrics blog, Zach Bulygo makes a great point about using the word "team" rather than employees:

"The difference between being a team and just a bunch of individuals is that the individuals see themselves as separate from each other. Helping others is forced because you normally operate on your own projects, or your own part in a larger project. 

Teams work together on all work related projects and help where necessary. It doesn't matter who gets credit for what because you accomplish everything together. You're knit together, not separated."

This shift in mentality from people (or siloed groups of people) working toward individual goals to a unified team, all pulling in one direction can make an enormous difference in the results of your work.

8. Give and solicit regular feedback

employee advocacy
OfficeVibe's Employee Feedback: The Complete Guide is a great resource on getting the most out of this precious commodity.

In short, employees don't get enough feedback, and when they do it's often vague or perceived as inauthentic. You may be thinking, "We do annual performance reviews. Feedback: covered."

I've got news for you. Once-a-year feedback doesn't come close to providing an employee with the tools they need to improve and grow.

At the recent HR Innovators summit, timely feedback and its impact on performance management was a recurring theme across companies of all sizes.

Giving helpful, timely feedback is a benefit to everyone. You can reward good behaviors and results as they occur, encouraging more of the same.

If an employee is consistently having trouble meeting management's expectations, that crucial feedback shouldn't come as a surprise at the end of the year. They need feedback and most importantly support when it's easy to make a correction.

The best managers and leaders are listeners and facilitators.

It's vital to give employees the tools they need to understand when and why they're doing well, and how to fix it when they're not.

9. Stay true to your core values

Core Values

Real core values are much more than a list of bullet points on a company's 'about us' page. Core values are a company's guiding light. They're the inseparable principals at the heart of an organization.

As such, they're not fleeting thoughts brainstormed during a heavily caffeinated group meeting with your web designer. They're not something you pick because they sound good.

Lolly Daskal wrote a great article for Huffington Post about this. In it, she described the concept perfectly:

"Your values determine what is important and meaningful to you. They align with your purpose, and speak loudly and passionately to others — and to yourself  about who you are and what you're called to do in this world."

If your culture is going to stick, you need to develop genuine core values and stay true to them.

10. Give culture building the effort it deserves

Build Culture

Few things will have a greater impact on your organization than its culture.

Building a company culture takes time and energy. It doesn't just happen. Your culture should align with your mission and values  and it should resonate with everyone in the organization.

Failing to allocate the necessary time and effort into building a company culture you can be proud of will leave you with a company culture you simply accept, or worse, dislike.

There's no finish line. A truly amazing company culture is a constant work in progress, because as a company evolves, so do its constituents.

Devote time to nurturing your company culture. Exemplify it in every way you can so that your team will be able to recognize and emulate it.

In summary

Building an outstanding company culture is one of the most rewarding tasks you can take on. A great culture attracts the best workers, increases overall retention, improves performance, and lowers costs, just to name a few things.

Start with these 10 dead simple steps, and experience the impact they can have.

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Written by George Dickson

George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.

Originally published on November 18, 2015 → Last updated June 22, 2018