Want to know the secret to having the best kind of company culture? The kind that will have employees becoming lifers, have job seekers lining up at your door, and turn every day at the office into the best day ever?
There is no secret and no easy “culture hack” (you probably saw that coming). With company culture, you simply can’t keep it secret. Plan it, say it, write it down, and say it again. The non-secret about culture is, to be effective, you must articulate it, and be intentional. Culture happens whether you plan it or not. The problem with not planning it, is that more than likely, you won’t get the type of culture you want.
Culture is the beliefs, values and behaviours of a company. When we think of beliefs and values, it’s easy to get muddled up in complex and lengthy kitchen-sink statements that include the minutia of the day-to-day, right up to claiming our place in the universe. Understandable, because if we want to be a great place for people, we want to think about all of our people. What do they like? What do they want? The further down this path you go, the bigger and more convoluted your statement of culture is going to get.
Important to remember, along this discovery journey, is what culture isn’t: it isn’t about making employees happy. Companies can’t make people happy. People (you and me included) are responsible for their own happiness. Gallup tells us that catering to the “wants” of the people fails to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement, which is about driving results.
So why do we care about culture?
An intentional workplace culture fuels employee engagement, which in turn drives those results which bottom line, affect the bottom line. Having a great environment that people love and where they feel empowered, valued and can contribute is all part of the culture but the purpose of culture is a successful company where people want to work.
Keep it Simple
No need to name call, but that KISS principle continues to make a good point. To be intentional with your culture, you must be able to state it – and simple is better understood and less likely to be misinterpreted. Keep the focus on core values, and what those values mean in your context, not a grocery list of every value that might apply. Greg McKeown is author of “Essentialism,” and an advocate of a workplace which keeps it simple, and does less better.
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either,” says McKeown. “It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
How does essentialism help you create a culture that rocks? And yes, for which your employees will love you? Think simple. Articulating culture isn’t creating an exhaustive list of every social event you want to plan for the year, or detailing the desk design options for employees to choose. Think deeply, and write down the core values that will guide your behaviours and experiences and on which you will never waver.
How do you get people to do what they need to and produce results?
Culture must be intentional. Your values determine how staff experience you—those experiences shape beliefs, those beliefs fuel actions, which in turn fuel results. Here’s the thing—you need to make sure the right values are driving the right experiences and shaping the beliefs that fuel the action you want and the right results.
(Adapted from Connors & Smith's Change the Culture, Change the Game.)
How does this play out in the workplace? Here’s an example of how the thinking might unfold:
Value: We value ideas at all levels of the organization, because that’s where innovation lies.
Experience: We encourage ideas and give people forum and opportunity to share ideas. And when they do—whether we act on them or not, we acknowledge the value of a shared idea with the person and recognize it through affirmation. We also create a path for validated ideas to be explored and moved forward.
Belief: Here, your ideas are heard, acknowledged and once evaluated, are moved forward. I believe I can speak up, contribute even if the idea is a little out there or it doesn’t pan out. New ideas are going to help our company succeed.
Action: I’ve focused my ideas on efficiency and while not all of them have been feasible, this latest one turns our <<fill in process>> on its head. We are now implementing this new approach.
Results: The new approach reduces time, benefits the customer and saves the company over $100K/year.
With a renewed sense of calm and control, you may now be thinking, “please let there be a Step 2.” No step two, but I do have some insider perspective on what terrific employees are hoping for in their next employer. Keep in mind, there is no perfect employer (or employee), but there are great matches to be made. Our recruiters with Smart, Savvy + Associates know how important “fit” is to make the best employer/employee pairing – so we ask our clients about their culture (remember, you need to be able to articulate it), to understand the needs of the workplace as well as the role specifics.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want
Then we ask our top candidates straight up: “What are you looking for in a workplace culture?” The most common answers give insight into the type of values sought-after employees want:
Meaningful work: a true understanding of the purpose of the company, and of the tasks associated with a role. Having a clear view of the company’s vision, and knowing exactly how the role contributes to that vision.
Supportive leadership: opportunities to learn and grow through mentoring and professional development. Company leaders who coach, celebrate successes, and don’t micro-manage.
Autonomy: environment which provides for flexibility and freedom to make decisions, with reasonable independence. Employees trusted to make the right decisions for the company, and given the right level of responsibility with the resources to back it up.
Cultures that rock
No one mentioned kegs, puppies or ping pong. Birthday parties, baby showers or group yoga? Nope…because those are just things. Culture is the thinking behind the things. Don’t overthink it—you already know your values. You need to articulate them, ensure your workplace experiences line up with them, and then, the beliefs, actions and results follow.
Boundaries for Leaders: results, relationships and being ridiculously in charge. Henry Cloud
Change the Culture, Change the Game: The breakthrough strategy for energizing your organization and creating accountability for results. Roger Connors & Tom Smith
Catherine Ducharme is Director of Client Services with Smart, Savvy + Associates’ Smart Savvy Academy. We find high-calibre marketing, communications, creative and sales professionals with proven track records and in-demand skills for companies who need them, across the Pacific Northwest and in Toronto. We also provide leadership and training development programs for workplace programs, corporate retreats and individual growth opportunities. Contact Catherine to discuss your organization's training needs.