Strong culture. We all want it, but how do we get from where we are to where we think we should be? And what does it really mean to have a strong culture? If we want culture to be more than a buzzword, we have to start by acknowledging that people are affected by the environment in which they work. Culture influences engagement, retention, productivity, and profitability.

How to Create a Culture That Boosts Productivity and Profit

Not surprisingly, happy employees do better work. They also tend to stay with you longer and take fewer sick days. The question is: how do you create the kind of culture that promotes engagement and productivity? Start with these five steps.

    1. Know where you’re headed.
      Do your employees know your company values? Can you articulate them clearly? Your stated values should communicate what matters most to your organization and how that should affect the way employees interact with one another and with customers.Once you have clearly defined your values, talk about them frequently. You can’t confine values discussions to the C-suite or to an annual seminar. You have to weave them into daily conversations and reiterate them to employees in the context of their work. Just as customers need to hear a marketing message many times before it influences their behavior, your employees will only adopt your cultural values when those values become an integral part of the workplace conversation.
    2. Lead by example.
      Change starts at the top and requires that you live out what you say you believe. In other words, leadership is based on integrity. If you say your company values respect, are you respectful to your secretary? If you say you value hard work, do you celebrate successes?When employees observe leaders not practicing the values of the organization, they will either follow suit or become disengaged and frustrated. By contrast, when leaders demonstrate integrity and empathy, they can have a measurable impact on how employees perform at work.
    3. Prioritize well-being.
      Wellness encompasses more than just physical health. It also includes emotional support, mental health, and stress management, and it aims to help employees thrive in all areas of their lives, not just their work performance. Specific ways to achieve those goals include re-examining your leave policies, considering flexible work options, promoting diversity and inclusion, and creating a recognition program that rewards the cultural values you want to promote.That also means making a commitment to end burnout. Company growth should happen in collaboration with your employees, not at their expense. Taking care of your people and ensuring that they have a healthy balance between work and the rest of their lives is the best way to support sustainable growth over the long term.
    4. Give people a purpose.
      It’s no secret that millennials want their work to have purpose. But it’s not just millennials who want their work and personal values to align. Across the board, people value authenticity and they want to do work that matters. As an employer, your culture should help employees find meaning in their work by giving them something to work for beyond their next paycheck.That may include promoting social and environmental responsibility, improving the lives of your customers, or helping people take the next right step in their chosen profession. At the end of the day, working for something bigger than themselves will help your employees feel good about what they do, and that’s important both for their wellbeing and the organization’s success.
    5. Alter policies to support your cultural values.
      There is no point in talking about cultural values like trust, integrity, and collaboration if your policies don’t support them. Overly punitive policies, for example, communicate that you don’t trust your employees to act in the best interests of the company. That’s one reason some companies have begun implementing unlimited paid time off. For policies like that to work, however, cultural values must be ingrained throughout the organization from the C-suite all the way to the newest employees coming through orientation.

Cultural Caveats: Avoid These Culture-Building Missteps

Even the best efforts to improve culture sometimes go awry. Here are three potential pitfalls to avoid as you work toward building a supportive, engaging culture:

  1. Don’t confuse perks with culture.
    Perks like free gym memberships, gourmet coffee, or flexible working hours can all be attractive to employees, but they won’t make people loyal to you. All the coffee in the world won’t convince an employee to continue working under a micromanaging boss or stay with a team that doesn’t value their contributions. Exciting work, shared purpose, supportive managers – these are the kinds of cultural elements that will keep talented team members around for the long term.
  2. Don’t reduce culture to buzzwords.
    Do you want an innovative culture? A high-performing, results-oriented culture? A trust-based culture? These are all great ideas in theory, but if they don’t align with the way your company actually operates, then they are just words. One way to avoid this, according to Harvard Business Review, is to structure your cultural objectives so that they acknowledge present realities while also providing an ideal to aim for (for example, a trust-based, collaborative culture that also aims for high performance goals).
  3. Don’t tolerate jerks (even if they are top performers).
    Values-based culture must apply to everyone or it will serve no one. If your top performers are jerks and you let it slide, you will undermine your cultural initiatives (and you’ll probably have a retention problem, too). Performance evaluations should include behaviors based on cultural values such as empathy and teamwork in addition to productivity metrics.

A positive workplace culture is defined by the experience of employees. When organizations value meaningful work, compassion, growth, and respect, employees will thrive. And that’s the key to creative, productive work.

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