When it comes to driving the success of your business, organizational culture is – without exaggeration – everything.
It impacts the:
- Engagement and satisfaction of your workforce
- Cohesion and harmony among people
- Behavior of your people
- Leadership style in your organization, which has an effect on the relationships between managers and their direct reports
- Willingness of your organization to embrace change and evolve
- Innovation and creativity of your workplace
In turn, all of these things influence:
- Whether your employees enjoy an environment in which they can thrive
- The quality of work that your employees produce
- How long employees stay with your company
- The ability of your organization to operate smoothly with minimal disruptions
- The competitiveness of your organization
- Whether your organization grows, increases revenue and maintains profitability
On the other hand, companies with culture problems experience the opposite.
So, what exactly is organizational culture?
Your organizational culture is the culmination of your organization’s:
- Core values and beliefs
- Practices and procedures
- Rules and policies
- Programs and initiatives
- Working and leadership styles
- Employee attitudes
- Social order
There’s hardly an aspect of your business or a part of each employee’s day that culture doesn’t permeate.
Culture is the “sum of all the things” – everything that makes your company what it is and helps you to deliver on your promise to customers, partners and team members.
Or you can think of it this way – your culture is your organization’s unique identity and personality. When people think of your organization, certain attributes may automatically come to mind.
What does organizational culture look like in action?
Organizational culture is something that you can actually observe in real time. In any workplace, watch for how:
- Employees go about their day to day and get their work done – and if they seem happy in the process
- Employees speak with customers
- Colleagues interact with each other
- Managers and employees interact
- The company as well as individuals respond to any challenge, from a minor problem to a major crisis
- The company expresses an openness to change and new ideas – even if it runs counter to long-held beliefs
- People speak up and share their ideas or feedback willingly
You’ll witness a dynamic that’s either:
- Uplifting, inspiring and functional
- Toxic, demoralizing and dysfunctional
- Somewhere in between
Furthermore, culture is dynamic. It must be embedded into new hires and practiced daily by employees – it’s not just written ideals that live in a handbook or on a poster. It must also be revisited regularly and refreshed as needed, in response to evolving internal and external conditions.
Many companies issue cultural surveys to their employees annually to obtain feedback about what’s working well versus what should change.
If not given appropriate attention, culture can certainly deteriorate.
Elevation of organizational culture in today’s workplace
To be clear, culture has always been important as it relates to recruiting, retention, profitability, business growth and success.
What’s different right now?
Smart leaders understand that if they’re not evaluating how their existing and prospective workforces perceive their culture, they’re already behind their competitors and missing out on opportunities and talent.
When all other things are equal in terms of salary and benefits, culture is the big differentiator.
What spurred this realization?
For starters, generational differences in tenure. Millennials and Generation Z are quickly growing in numbers. Younger workers tend to stay at companies for shorter periods of time than older generations – sometimes just a few years. Among these age groups, job hopping is much more mainstream and accepted. As these workers rise in influence and take over from Boomers and Generation X, retention will be a key challenge for employers.
But it’s also true that the COVID-19 pandemic served as a reset, presenting employees of all ages, job types and industries with the opportunity to pause and reassess what’s most important to them. Following this experience, people tend to more strongly value:
- Personal satisfaction and fulfillment
- Genuine relationships
- Less stress
- Wellness (physical and emotional)
- Work-life balance, and the ability to fit work within their personal obligations and interests
If a company has a culture that many people perceive to be negative, those employees are more willing to walk away and find another job than they may have been previously. In fact, the search for a better workplace culture is one driver behind post-pandemic turnover (aka, “The Great Resignation”).
As a result, companies are increasingly concerned with how to build an organizational culture that aligns with evolving employee expectations.
And as companies undergo significant changes brought on by the pandemic – namely, the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid work on a permanent basis – they’re compelled to figure out how to improve or maintain culture in an environment in which people are dispersed and less directly connected on a day-to-day basis. Leaders have to be much more intentional and proactive about fostering a culture that will appeal to their workforce and benefit their business.
10 essential qualities for outstanding organizational culture
Clearly, job candidates and employees want a desirable workplace culture. They often cite this as one of their biggest priorities when evaluating their current position or potential career opportunities.
But what makes a “desirable culture?” Here’s a list of what’s top of mind for most workers and what any company should strive for.
1. Sense of belonging
The old attitude at work was, “Check your personal feelings at the door.”
But, following the pandemic when people endured so much stress, panic, grief and burnout, mindsets have shifted.
Today, it’s all about supporting employees. Leaders recognize that, for employees to thrive, they must be able to bring their whole selves to work. Employees should also feel comfortable and safe raising concerns and discussing personal challenges.
After all, we’re all human and have distractions and stressors that we carry with us whether or not we’re open about it. Why not allow more authenticity and, as a result, be able to help each other overcome challenges or find a way to accommodate an employee who is struggling with a personal issue? This fosters greater loyalty from employees and helps to mitigate stress.
2. Focus on wellbeing
Employees need to know that their employers care about them as people – beyond the value they bring to the business.
Post-pandemic, employees have made it clear that their physical and mental health are paramount and deserve ongoing attention – and their employers’ values on this topic should align with theirs.
Employees desire more workplace flexibility to preserve their wellbeing and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. They need to be able to tend to whatever is happening at home alongside work, whether that’s caring for young children or aging parents. Organizational culture must adapt to allow for more flexibility and accommodations while preventing employee burnout.
Employees also expect workplaces to offer resources and support in maintaining their well-being. This support could take the form of an employee wellness program, an employee assistance program or even just an environment in which people ask about each other and feel comfortable seeking assistance.
Furthermore, sociopolitical issues and current events can also impact employees adversely. Leaders must be sensitive to what’s happening in the larger community and how it can affect employees’ mindset and productivity. How can leaders invite conversations about these issues? How can the impact from these events be addressed and resolved in the workplace?
Inclusivity is about having a culture for ALL. Everyone – regardless of their individual differences – should feel welcome, accepted and valued for who they are and the contributions they offer.
It’s important to create a discrimination- and harassment-free environment in which everyone feels comfortable speaking up to share ideas or feedback, participating fully in meetings or taking calculated professional risks necessary to achieve career growth.
Going hand in hand with inclusivity, connectedness is about inspiring teamwork. Employees should feel that they are on a team, with everyone working toward shared goals and in pursuit of a larger purpose.
The big challenge for employers in remote and hybrid work environments is forging connections and camaraderie when people are physically apart – sometimes scattered across distant locations and even across time zones.
From reimagining the onboarding process and investing in collaborative technology, to prioritizing team building, encouraging mentorships, and launching affinity groups or employee resource groups, companies must consider how they can embed connectivity and prevention of workplace isolation into their culture.
Secrets, gossip and exclusion are the drivers of a toxic workplace.
A transparent culture values honesty and open, timely communication with employees about matters relevant to them. Your workplace should prize transparency because it fosters trust and integrity throughout the workplace, and bolsters feelings of respect, inclusion and connectedness within employees.
Additionally, transparency can level the playing field and help everyone to feel equal.
6. Respect for others
The foundation for any healthy culture is treating others with respect. Nothing will hurt morale and retention faster than an environment in which people feel constantly belittled. Respect in action can be big or small and look like:
- Listening and championing the ideas of others
- Using everyone’s time wisely
- Addressing any issues with those involved and not anyone else
- Building a strong people strategy that focuses on employee happiness
Employees need to feel safe with each other in sharing ideas and exploring new ways of working and accomplishing tasks – and know that others are there to support them. In a healthy culture, people can rely on each other without fear of reprisal or ridicule.
Trust is also an essential component in managers granting employees the greater autonomy they crave. The delegation of certain responsibilities from leaders to their employees should be encouraged to boost their confidence and allow them to gain the experience necessary to grow in their careers.
8. Dedication to growth and development
Companies can’t allow themselves to become stale or mired in groupthink. Instead, it’s important that everyone on the team share an enthusiasm for:
- Expanding knowledge and skill sets
- Keeping up with industry news and trends
- Pushing each other to be their best and reach their full potential
A culture of continuous learning leads to more innovation, creativity, recognition of good business opportunities and, ultimately, more success.
9. Openness to change and evolution
Nothing stays the same forever. The conditions surrounding businesses are always in flux, whether it’s the passage of a new law, the introduction of a game-changing technology, or a market shift.
Furthermore, companies themselves change over time as they grow. What your company once was, your legacy, may not be what your company is about today. (However, as companies grow they need to have a plan for how they’ll maintain their culture.)
Companies can’t be so beholden to outdated practices or fearful of change that it holds them back, causes business to suffer or repels employees. Instead, companies that seek out and embrace new ideas are better poised to take advantage of lucrative opportunities.
They can also adapt more nimbly in response to unexpected changes that could otherwise threaten their business. As part of a culture that embraces change, employees should be imbued with a mindset of resilience to help them cope even when changes are undesirable at first.
Everything, including culture, starts at the top of your organization. To get buy-in from your entire population of employees, the values and behaviors you want them to adopt must be modeled by leadership. Every day, your leadership needs to walk the walk and champion the culture you want everyone else to embody.
Otherwise, employees will get the impression that everything you say about culture is just lip service – and you’ll end up with a much different culture than what you expect.
Summing it all up
Organizational culture has always been important, because it touches nearly every aspect of a business. However, in our post-pandemic paradigm and with the increased prominence of younger generations of workers, it’s become the #1 most critical initiative for attracting top talent, retaining employees and positioning companies for success. Not only do you need to cultivate your own company culture with intention, but you need to carefully maintain it and review and refresh it as needed. Most of all, make sure that these 10 qualities outlined above are embedded into your culture.
To learn more about building an outstanding organizational culture that will attract and keep the best talent, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to company culture.