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How To Improve Company Culture (and Why It Matters So Much): 5 of Our Expert Tips

  • Candice Schmitt
  • July 11, 2022

Culture may not appear on the balance sheet alongside goodwill and brand recognition, but maybe it should. Many people talk about culture, yet few really understand what it is and how to shape it to the company’s advantage. Culture goes far beyond your reputation as a great place to work and free popcorn in the employee lounge. 

Rather, company culture is about the values, beliefs and practices that define how leadership and employees:

  • Support one another
  • Interact with the company managers and their colleagues
  • Relate to the business objectives and identity
  • Above all, get the work done

To understand how to improve company culture, you’ll need more than a list of activities. Begin by understanding the benefits of a strong culture and how important it is to your company’s long-term prosperity.

Why Culture Is So Important

There are some very compelling reasons for leadership to make an effort to improve the company culture. Culture is, after all, one of the main reasons companies like Netflix, Google and Zappos are desirable targets for those looking for a job. Yet, Netflix proudly proclaims in its culture manifesto that their version of the great workplace has nothing to do with sushi lunches and great gyms. They write, “ Our version of the great workplace is a dream team in pursuit of ambitious common goals.” 

In fact, there are many benefits to having a strong and positive culture. They include:

  • Enhanced productivity: A strong culture means that employees align to fulfill a common purpose. The goals and the direction are clear. When employees know what is expected, conflict is minimized and collaboration is facilitated. 
  • Higher level of employee engagement: Culture provides a sense of identity that generates excitement. Employees are more interested in the work because they understand how it contributes to the company’s overall vision. According to Gallup, a highly engaged workforce can increase profitability by 21%
  • Improved brand reputation: When it comes to consumer preferences, culture can help one company outperform another. Word of a toxic company culture travels fast via social media. This not only affects the company internally, but many customers will also turn away.
  • Better talent: Companies that have a positive culture also have a reputation for being great places to work. According to a recent Glassdoor survey, 77% of job seekers consider culture before applying for a job. In fact, culture is considered the number one driver of happiness — even more than money.

The Key Elements of Company Culture

Few people agree on the essential elements of company culture. It’s helpful, however, to examine culture using some sort of framework. Elements, even if they differ from model to model, at least give us something to hold on to. When we understand the elements of culture, it’s easier to see the types of effort needed to bring about lasting change. 

While there is no agreed-upon framework for the discussion of culture, here are five elements that we feel are essential.

Values

These deeply embedded standards help determine what’s important and right. Although values tell us how we should behave, they don’t always reflect what happens in reality. To make them an essential part of the culture, values must be reinforced by the company’s systems and its leaders.

Leadership

Leaders are important in the establishment of policies, the setting of goals and the pursuit of new opportunities. Further, they develop the next generation of employees who will propel the company into the future. Their words and actions, good and bad, are often mimicked by others and reflected in how employees interact with colleagues and managers.

Vision

A simple and compelling vision is the foundation of a great corporate culture. It’s so much more than a placard adorning the hallways. Companies that have great vision are aligned behind a common purpose and moving with intent toward True North. 

Beliefs

Beliefs are things employees hold to be true. They influence how people make decisions, interact with one another and what they conclude about how things work. Beliefs manifest in behaviors and dictate where leaders and employees invest their time and energy.

Artifacts

Artifacts can be physical objects and events that demonstrate what the company values, such as an open concept layout, an annual family picnic or even meaningful art on the walls. But artifacts also show up in other ways. Some nonphysical artifacts might include, for example, the benefits structure, an often-repeated company legend, loaner bikes on the corporate campus or a “no shoes” policy.

The five elements above help explain why we have included the tips that follow. They will also help you create a personalized and comprehensive strategy to develop your own unique approach to improving company culture. 

How To Improve Company Culture: 5 Tips

Many culture initiatives start with a kick-off meeting followed by the appearance of company slogans, some wallet cards and a few wall posters. But that’s not how real change happens. To improve company culture, begin with action. Embedded in these tips are a few ideas to get started. Of course, the caveat is that one size does not fit all. That’s where creativity comes in.

1. Focus on Communication

Leaders communicate as much through their actions as through what they say. They set the tone for how employees speak to one another, resolve conflicts, collaborate in teams and respond to requests from other employees. Their words and actions are mimicked and become ingrained in the culture. Many companies use 360-degree evaluations from bosses, colleagues and employees to create an action plan to ensure that leaders exemplify company values.

2. Provide Transparency

Transparency generates trust, increases engagement and reduces job-related stress. When leadership communicates strategy, it motivates employees and helps them understand how they are contributing to the company’s success. Remember, however, that transparency invites feedback. In some cases, employees may weigh in on decisions without having sufficient information to give an informed opinion. Still, feedback deserves a transparent response. 

3. Make It Fun With Gamification

Gamification is a fun way to use something that already exists, like key performance indicators (KPIs), and apply game elements to it. Ensure that your game strategy aligns with and supports the company vision. Include goals, metrics and rewards in the games that invite employees to take responsibility for their own success. Games also encourage fun in the workplace by setting up friendly competitions and providing a great excuse to visibly recognize and celebrate achievements.

4. Enhance the Employee Experience

The employee experience is the sum total of your employees’ interaction and experience with the company. It’s your internal brand. A positive employee experience is the result of beliefs that create a supportive work environment. One of the best ways to support employees is by spending meaningful time with them. Schedule frequent check-ins and one-on-one meetings and ask how you can help them be more successful. 

5. Connect to a Purpose

Many employees want to work for companies that value what they value. If you already have a corporate giving program, ratchet it up. If you don’t, now is a great time to start. People, even those who will not show up at company parties, love to come together in support of a good cause. Your employees can select a favorite nonprofit to choose where corporate donations go and work toward charitable goals as a company. The company can sponsor community events and supply employees to help. 

Corporate giving programs offer a great opportunity to create artifacts, as well as connect to the broader community. In addition to facilitating employee giving through paycheck deductions, here are few other ideas to engage your workforce: 

  • Offer a launch gift to employees who participate in the new corporate giving program
  • Celebrate employee birthdays by making a donation to a nonprofit in their name
  • Incorporate giving into your annual bonus by allowing employees to designate a portion that is matched
  • Create a holiday match program
  • Pair spontaneous spot rewards with a charitable gift to employees
  • Reward performance and achievements at all-hands meetings by awarding charitable dollars

Keep It Going

Once you understand the elements of culture, it really isn’t very difficult to influence it in a positive way. If you run out of ideas, generate enthusiasm by challenging your employees to help. However, no matter what actions you take, change is unlikely to stick without a concerted and consistent effort to keep your culture moving in a positive direction.A corporate giving program is one of the best ways to engage and inspire your employees. At Groundswell, we make it easy for you to turn your corporate giving program into an employee benefit. Contact us for more information.

  • Candice Schmitt
  • July 11, 2022