Culture is the single most important factor in organizational success or failure. It tells employees how to behave, how to do their jobs and how “things are done around here.” But would your employees, middle-management and executives all describe your culture the same way?
Articulate your culture
Being intentional about culture means you approach it from an architectural model. You shape your company’s norms, values and beliefs deliberately rather than letting them evolve organically. And the most important piece of this puzzle is how you articulate your culture to the people who live it every day. Your policies, procedures, communications, systems, org chart, benefits and so much more need to consistently (and accurately) reflect your culture.
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It might sound complicated, but these eight steps will help you manage and communicate your culture to employees:
- Explain what your culture is and why it matters. Clearly outline your corporate culture for employees. How do you define it? How can they live it? Then explain how it enables your unique business strategy. For example, if your company builds remote working solutions, a “butts in seats” culture flies in the face of your strategy. Instead, you need to offer flexible work arrangements where people can work from home, allowing them to both live the culture and effectively test your product.
- Set behavior expectations. There’s no good or bad here, but cultural attributes help you set expectations around attitude, how people work together, how they interact and more. Is the culture you need to have reactive or proactive? Indifferent or curious? Disjointed or integrated? Once you’ve determined these expectations, explicitly communicate them in simple “action” phrases that clarify what you want from employees.
- Educate your people about the culture. Leading by example is the best way to educate people about culture and expectations. Culture training — for employees, managers and leaders — is also a great addition to your toolbox. Add it to new hire orientations and quarterly company meetings — and offer it when people can attend, whether that’s at lunch or several times throughout the day to accommodate shift workers. Look for ways to go “deep” on each cultural attribute you want to reinforce, so people truly understand what each means and how they can live it.
- Communicate the culture. Directly talk to your employees about what culture looks like — why it’s important, how it aligns and evolves with strategy, and how to live it. And make sure your communications align with culture. If your organization is more formal and structured, your communications should be too. If things are more casual and on-the-fly, your tone should reflect that.
- Thread culture through everything you do. This goes beyond day-to-day communications. How does your HR team hire for cultural fit? How do you talk about it in orientations? How do you incorporate it into performance management? These all show your employees what’s important to your culture. Are you trying to build a collaborative work environment? Then stack ranking your employees against each other isn’t a great idea. Instead, reinforce collaboration by drawing on peer feedback and offering rewards to teams that meet their goals.
- Set accountability and metrics. You have to evaluate your culture and hold people — especially your leaders — accountable for living it every day. Incorporate metrics into a developmental feedback loop for employees and managers to help integrate cultural values into their goals and performance. At Limeade, we built a culture of improvement that provides the resources people need to grow personally and professionally. And we check in frequently to ensure they set challenging but attainable goals, meet with managers and improve every quarter.
- Empower culture champions. Every company has respected leaders — both formal and informal — who are ambassadors of your culture. Make sure these people know they’re regarded for upholding the culture. Recognize your champions — maybe even hold a contest asking people to nominate coworkers who are models for living the culture. Most important, encourage them to align their work and management styles so they can keep demonstrating what it looks like to live the culture.
- Create opportunities to live the culture. It’s important that people understand the overt ways they can participate in your culture. Limeade created “Own It Day,” when all employees pitch ideas for improving our product and delighting customers. This is an important part of our open and collaborative culture (and always results in making our product better and stronger!).