As entrepreneurs and business leaders form or reorganize their companies, one of the most important things they should get right is workplace culture — it’s the foundation for all aspects of business operations and serves as a powerful driver of corporate success.
Every company has a corporate culture — by design or default — that is an organization’s unique personality, setting the tone for a company and defining how it treats employees and how employees should treat each other, clients, vendors and stakeholders.
With culture playing a pivotal role in the workplace and entrepreneurs typically putting everything on the line, it’s important to strategically and purposefully design that culture, rather than leaving it to chance and letting it evolve on its own.
Below are six steps business leaders should consider.
1. Understand the dynamics
Culture is a two-way street, and although executives design it, employees define and shape the culture through their personalities and daily interactions based on trust, common values, demonstrated behaviors and shared goals.
Culture is not something that a company dictates and imposes upon a workforce; it is an ongoing relationship-building process between a company and its employees. In addition, culture is an extension of the brand and serves as a critical link between the internal environment and the external presence of a company, which can affect its reputation.
With the emergence of more remote/hybrid work environments, entrepreneurs with a blank slate have a unique opportunity to rethink traditional cultures and implement innovative ways to stay connected that promote the culture. However, the conventional steps used to design a culture should remain the backbone for planning and implementation purposes.
2. Develop mission and core values statements
Business leaders should work with their executive team to develop a mission statement and list of core values that captures their vision for the company and embodies their principles. A company’s mission and core values should set the stage for creating an environment that encourages mutual trust between the company and its people, enables a high level of employee engagement and facilitates effective team collaboration that leads to long-term success.
With careful thought and consideration, a company’s mission and core values should be able to stand the test of time, allowing for minor tweaks along the way, helping to ensure a consistent culture with high standards and a commitment to excellence.
3. Solicit employee input and feedback
It is a good idea to solicit input/feedback from a focus group that includes employees with various experience levels and tenure from different parts of the organization. Since employees are the ones who will be most affected on a daily basis, their insights can be extremely beneficial, especially in remote/hybrid environments where employers continue to seek ways to optimize the culture.
There might be matters that executives thought were insignificant, but employees feel is a point of concern. Conversely, employees might think something is exciting that wasn’t even on the radar. In addition, buy-in from management is critical because they will have to live these values daily and set an example for their teams and the company.
4. Incorporate core values into the culture
Once the mission and core values have been established, it is not enough to post them in key locations and hope employees take notice; they should be incorporated into the culture. Leading by example is an excellent way for executives to demonstrate company values, which should be reflected in their daily communications, meetings and interactions with employees. Walking the talk will encourage others to emulate similar behaviors and habits that help to reinforce and internalize the culture.
When corporate values are woven into a company’s DNA and institutionalized through ongoing programs and initiatives such as recruiting, hiring, onboarding, employee surveys, training and performance reviews, it helps to further solidify the culture and secure it for the long term.
5. Demonstrate the culture
Companies should develop ways to demonstrate the culture through actions, which can have a significant impact on employees and provide evidence that the company is living out its values. Additionally, implementing programs that correlate to specific values speaks volumes about the company and its culture.
Some approaches can include demonstrating integrity by following through on promises, practicing servant leadership by working for the benefit of others, providing a robust work-life balance program that includes flexibility, offering paid time to volunteer in the community to make a difference in the lives of others, displaying care and empathy by taking the time to listen to employee needs and concerns and creating a recognition program that rewards employees who model certain company values.
6. Conduct climate surveys
To ensure the culture remains on track, it is important to gauge the sentiment of employees related to the company and how it is maintaining its values by conducting annual, anonymous climate surveys. This helps employers learn more about how employees feel toward their job, workplace, colleagues and managers. The information might also uncover new ways for the company to align with the culture and its core values in remote/hybrid workplaces.
Conducting climate surveys helps to build trust with employees, which is key in company culture, because it demonstrates that the company truly cares about employee feelings, needs and concerns. However, employers should commit to acting upon the results, so employees understand that the company is sincere about learning more and making any necessary improvements and/or changes.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders who are in the exciting stages of forming or reorganizing their companies should take appropriate steps to design a strong corporate culture that serves as a foundation for their business operations. This is not only key for a competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent, but it is also critical for the company’s reputation and longevity in the marketplace.