There comes a time in every HR practitioner’s career where you realize you just can’t drive company culture alone.
Modern conceptions of company culture are in a state of transition. For as many companies out there that recognize the importance of senior management and proactive champions in driving culture, there are just as many that are eager to push the work off to HR. As I’m sure many practitioners are aware, when just one department in the company is driving key cultural initiatives, the well of ideas can dry up quickly.
The need for a more holistic, organized, and thoughtful approach quickly becomes clear. If culture is to be strategic, it needs more input, collaboration, and co-creation from the people it’s supposed to be helping.
Enter the company culture committee
Culture committees are cross-functional teams of employees that discuss, plan, and proactively drive all matters pertaining to company culture. The committees organically generate employee buy-in for culture, because they’re the ones building it. They help the company’s central principles and values permeate the day-to-day work experience.
While employee-driven efforts have always been encouraged at companies that understood the strategic role of workplace culture, the existence of company culture committees is yet another sign of the changing times. Increasingly, research shows us that strong company cultures have the competitive edge in the marketplace because they produce more engaged employees. In this study analyzing more than 110,000 engagement surveys over 10 years, companies with engaged cultures saw up to 30% greater customer satisfaction levels.
Committees are the latest way of ensuring the company can reap benefits like this by fighting one of culture’s biggest threats: stagnancy. Committees are designed to bring together employees across different departments. This ensures new ideas come from all areas of the company, and that no one function has too much influence over the direction culture takes.
But that alone does not a great company culture committee make. Reflecting on my own experiences as a champion of company culture across my career, I’ve identified five key ingredients for successful culture committees.
It is a fact that companies that prioritize diversity perform better than those that don’t. But in order to actually make a difference, those faces and voices need to be given seats at the table — and spots on your committee.
The makeup of a culture committee should be representative of the company in every respect possible. Your committee needs diversity across your organizational chart in terms of employees spanning different roles, tenure, seniority, and departments to ensure everyone has a voice, no matter what floor they work on. But you also need diversity in demographic considerations of age, race, and gender to promote inclusivity and a positive atmosphere.
Company culture isn’t all about bake-offs and team-building events. Every component of culture must be motivated by a clear sense of purpose. That purpose, in turn, should be a response of the needs of the business. Likewise, company culture committees must be similarly purposeful in their actions. Every initiative a committee puts together must be planned with intent and forethought. Sure, things can be planned because they’re fun, but your committee should have at least a basic understanding of the bigger function these initiatives serve.
For example, to an outsider a committee-organized food drive might look like just a plain old food drive. But from the perspective of the committee, the food drive serves the purpose of invoking employees’ sense of charity and compassion through the act of giving. Those feelings can make work more meaningful for employees and engender a sense of company loyalty.
3. Leadership buy-in
Company culture committees are important for securing employee buy-in and enriching culture overall, but grassroots efforts organized solely by employees can only ever get so far. Without sponsorship from a member of the leadership team these efforts will flounder.
Sponsorship from leadership is necessary for a couple of reasons. To get the obvious out of the way, sometimes you need a budget (usually a small one in the grand scheme of things) to run culture initiatives. Unless one of your committee members is in the finance department and has the gumption to do some creative accounting, odds are they won’t have the sanctioned access to the company’s coffers.
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But leadership support amounts to much more than deep pockets. The employees on the committee have obligations to their professional roles. The effort they put in to keep the spirit of culture alive is all discretionary. Support from leaders acknowledges the committee’s work is valid. It shows approval of the work they do (and the time they need to do it) because it’s necessary for the betterment of company culture. That type of recognition can’t come from anybody else.
It’s always easier to see the output of a company culture committee’s work than it is the input. A committee deeply embedded into the DNA of a company’s culture could have its fingerprints on everything from team-building events to core value statements to even elements of the onboarding process. That all takes considerable time and effort to organize.
Part of HR’s job as committee organizer will be to communicate that time investment up front. Every committee member must have a clear understanding of the commitment that is required of them before they join. There should be no shame in turning down someone who isn’t a right fit for the team. If a committee member can’t (or won’t) put in the requisite effort that the rest of the company’s employees deserve, there will be a low ceiling on what you’re able to accomplish.
5. Curation and iteration
Your committee could be full of genuinely dedicated culture champions, but that commitment can be negated if they can’t bring fresh proposals to meetings. Yes, stagnancy is still a risk for culture, even when you have plenty of drivers willing to contribute to its benefit. Culture thrives off the energy of new ideas and lifts from the buoyancy of creative thinking. It’s important your committee has policies in place that ensure no one member wears out their stay so fresh blood can rotate in.
For example, we’ve introduced a system for term limits in our own company culture committee to address just this issue. Each member has a term of 12 months but has the option to participate in multiple and consecutive terms. At the same time, employees who are motivated to enrich our culture but aren’t on the committee can reach out to their managers and indicate their interest to join. The leadership team ultimately determines the final nomination and membership status of committee members.
In forming your committee, it’s important to remember that culture evolves all the time. Yes, part of that change will be a result of the committee’s efforts, but some of it happens naturally on its own. This is because the vitality of culture will always be dependent, in part, by the needs of the business.
As such, a company culture committee must always be in touch with fellow employees to monitor for changes in their culture’s appetite. But if you have all the right ingredients, your committee will make sure culture never goes hungry either.