Culture management and its relationship to a company's strategic growth is a top priority for businesses today. In the 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey (canvassing some 300 HR decision makers at U.S. companies), 85 percent of those surveyed ranked "focusing on company culture to drive results" as a key objective, while more than 40 percent said a top organizational challenge is "finding candidates who fit their company culture."
So how is a company culture defined? Is there a link between a healthy culture and the success of a business? What exactly does it mean to "hire around a cultural fit," and is this an important element of effective employee retention?
A look at the meaning of corporate culture
Every business, regardless of its size, has a unique corporate culture. With shared ideals, customs, attitudes, principles, and philosophies, corporate culture is rooted in an organization's goals and strategies for achieving success.
Understanding your company's culture, and learning how to manage it properly, can help you reach your goals and grow as an organization. A thriving culture can inspire employees to do their best, help improve employee retention rates, and can attract top talent to your organization.
Lack of a clear company culture can have the opposite effect. If you fail to acknowledge and embrace what the company culture is, your business could struggle. That's because, in many cases:
- Hiring managers bring on employees that don't fit the culture, if they aren’t aware of the culture of the business
- Managers can't articulate a company's goals — without a clear definition of the company culture, they may not be sure of what the goals are.
- Staff loses perspective on what's most important in the business/customer relationship — without a clearly defined culture, they may not know what that is.
Without clearly defining what your corporate culture is, you can lose hold of what’s important to your business.
Embracing your company culture
How do you ensure you don't lose track of your corporate culture? Whether the core values center around the customer, a family atmosphere, programs to grow the business or some other purpose, it's vital to find employees, managers, vendors, and others who know how to support and grow your desired culture.
Depending on the culture you choose to embrace, the way you manage and prepare your staff is imperative. Policies and procedures that support your culture should be created and continually communicated. Culture should be a key component in your recruiting process, considering attributes in candidates that fit the culture you wish to adopt. On the same note, ensure your managers are also aware of the company culture, and managing employees with this in mind.
With a well-defined corporate culture, communicated and embraced from the top down, employees are more likely to know what the company stands for. When a person understands their purpose, they may be better able to do their job. Morale tends to increase, which can cause a ripple effect of loyalty and an increase in productivity. The end results could be better service to the customer and higher profits.
Managing corporate culture
Before you can manage your culture, you must identify the internal and external factors affecting your organization. Answering the following questions may help you in your research:
- How would you describe your business?
- What kind of behaviors are encouraged and rewarded?
- Which employees seem to fit in, and which ones seem out of place? Why?
- What is the value proposition and mission for your business?
- Are you happy with the state of your business and how work gets done? Why or why not?
The answers to these questions can help you determine if you wish to promote the current state of your culture or endeavor to change it.
Even if you are happy with your company's culture, it's important not to become complacent in managing it. Check in with your employees regularly via anonymous satisfaction surveys or one-on-one meetings. Find new ways to make your employees even more productive. As your company grows, make sure the culture remains aligned with your mission, vision, and values.
If, on the other hand, you find that your current culture leads to poor business outcomes and unhappy employees, it's not too late to get on a better track. Changing your culture may be one of the most difficult things you face as a manager, but it's not impossible.
How transparency fits in with corporate culture and strategy
There was a time when the internal communication strategy for many businesses was to say as little as possible. Today, most businesses must commit to a high degree of transparency to be credible with their workforce, customers, and other key stakeholders. Communicating with employees is a good thing, since presumably you've hired people for their willingness to contribute to business growth and who appreciate being kept in the loop.
Which factors of an internal communications strategy can help reinforce your company culture?
Start at the top. In the past, CEOs and business owners may have often been reluctant to share business information with others in the organization. A culture of transparency starts at the top to help establish trust and credibility.
Solicit employee input. Even if you have a strong sense of how to proceed with employee communications, getting input from employees themselves can prove beneficial. Meet with a small group of dedicated employees for input into:
- How news can best be disseminated;
- When to inform people of new developments; and
- What types of information might not be necessary to share.
Your chances of a favorable response may increase if you're communicating in ways employees prefer.
Focus on clarity in language. In your messages, always focus on the use of clear, unambiguous language to get your key points across. Stay away from company-related jargon (e.g., don't assume all employees understand acronyms or other insider verbiage). Convey your message as concisely and clearly as possible.
Reinforce the message across multiple avenues. Transparency is most effective when practiced across company channels. Employees are likely to receive and review your messages at different times, and in different locations. Consider repeating information at different times, and through additional avenues, beyond a single point of contact. This can include company-wide meetings, emails from the CEO or business owner, social media postings, business website updates, and so on. Make sure the wording of your messages is consistent across platforms, so people hear a clear message regardless of where they are getting the information.
Invite feedback. At both the designated point of access and in other venues, encourage employees to comment or otherwise respond to the news you share. This can be a critically important barometer by which to measure their engagement in your internal communication strategy, as well as the degree of morale within the organization.
Be the first to deliver bad news. At some point, you will probably need to share unfortunate news of some kind with employees (budget cuts, projected layoffs, etc.). Certain laws may also govern communication rules around layoffs. Within reason, an effective strategy is not to withhold such news and wait for employees to hear about it elsewhere. In such situations, rumors and gossip can spread quickly, and the situation is almost always worse as a result. By coming forward with bad news in a timely manner, you not only halt the spread of morale-killing rumors, but you can help reinforce the level of trust among employees.
How to establish and support your organizational culture
Every business has a culture, whether you participate or not. Take the opportunity to develop a corporate culture that has meaning to you and it could play a key role in helping you achieve your business goals.
Here are five concrete action steps to boost awareness of and loyalty to your corporate culture:
- Determine your company's identity. What is important to you? What is the lasting impression you want to leave with employees and customers?
- Communicate that desire, write down your expectations, and make sure all managers are on board. Hold company-wide meetings to roll it out to staff.
- Update and revise handbooks, processes, and procedures to ensure the culture is being supported at the core functioning level. Establish standard expectations for the departments, and create or update job descriptions that line up with the overall culture you're trying to adopt.
- Don't be afraid to get help. The process needs to be managed and developed internally, but you may need some external help to get the ball rolling.
- Be a role model for what you expect and the employees will naturally tend to reciprocate the behaviors and patterns you establish as the norm.
Leveraging your company culture to fight employee disengagement
In companies with ill-defined (or dysfunctional) cultures, employees often find themselves disengaged from the workplace. Widespread employee disengagement can't be sustained for long, without significantly negative effects on the business. When you're dealing with a culture of active disengagement, what steps can you take to heal disconnects and re-engage teams?
Understand the source of the problem. Disengaged employees need to be evaluated at both the individual and group levels. Overarching cultural or workforce issues can impact engagement levels, such as systematically under-compensating workers, a toxic culture, or disengaged leadership. Other factors can spur disengagement, such as unclear job expectations or a lack of communication.
How can you overcome this problem? Consider using data collection to determine what may be causing issues:
- Conduct surveys to look for company-wide trends.
- Appoint internal or external observers who can look at your situation from a fresh perspective.
- Have individual conversations with employees to better understand what's happening and how the situation can be repaired.
When you identify the gap in expectations with unhappy employees and look for overall trends that could be contributing to this issue, you'll be well on your way to getting things back on track.
Realign communications and expectations. Once you understand what's driving employee dissatisfaction, it's possible to fix it. Leaders should focus on two crucial areas: communications and expectations. Discuss employee expectations early in the relationship, looking at what new hires expect and whether that aligns with what your company delivers. Have conversations with employees to track how they're performing, and consistently re-calibrate employee relationships when there's a disconnect.
Use HR technology. The right HR technology can play a key role in keeping your employees engaged. For example, when an employee has a question about compensation or benefits, the ability to quickly and painlessly access that information can help alleviate their concerns. HR software also helps an employee access the criteria of future performance reviews or data from their most recent evaluation, which can help them stay on track.
Simple tools such as mobile time and attendance tracking can also help eliminate day-to-day logistical frustrations that can build and lead employees to disconnect. Invest in the best human capital management technologies available to help stem the tide of employee disengagement.
Building and promoting a healthy culture starts with the people at the top — the business owner or CEO, along with the leadership team. They are responsible for setting a tone of engagement and respect for all team members, and for doing everything possible to ensure transparency, adherence to stated values, a dedication to employee growth, and more. With the right level of culture management, a business can prosper with engaged employees and a cohesive culture that moves the company forward on an effective path of growth.