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4 Steps to Cultivate Company Culture

In Company Culture — by Samantha Stauf

man with trolls
Culture can either immunize or infect a company. Good culture can revitalize and motivate. Negative culture increases employee absences and turnover while decreasing their overall productivity while at work. All of which can lead to a loss of income. Employee turnover alone can cost a company anywhere from 30-50 percent of an entry-level employee’s annual salary.

And that’s not even getting into the PR fiascos that have resulted from bad company cultures. Amazon’s brand recently took a hit when former employees revealed some of the less desirable cultural aspects. Having a former employee tell The New York Times “I wouldn’t wish a job at Amazon on my worst enemy” can be very damaging to the company’s ability to hire skilled employees. From a recruitment aspect alone, HR should be spearheading the initiative to cultivate a positive environment and atmosphere.

Culture, due to its very intangibility, can be hard to wrangle into submission. Dr. Mark Allen, a professor at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, offers guidance in Culture Driven Companies. In the webinar, he lays out four steps to cultivate company culture.

Step 1: “Who is responsible for culture in your organization?”

Who is responsible is one of the first questions that Dr. Allen asks companies and employees when he talks to them about their culture. And who is responsible should be the first task companies tackle.

You might be thinking,HR doesn’t have the time to invest in a company culture initiative.” Thankfully, you’re not the only department that’s directly and indirectly affected by company culture. All other employees have a stake in ensuring that the culture lends to a productive and happy workplace.

Due to that fact, you might want to think about following in Southwest Airlines’ footsteps and create a culture committee. The culture committee would ideally be comprised of individuals from each department who act as cultural ambassadors. Cultural ambassadors articulate and model the organization’s values, and ensure the culture is steadily moving in the right direction.

Step 2: What is the culture?

Before the culture committee can grow, nurture, maintain, or repair a culture, the committee (with the help of management) should identify what aspects of culture they want to develop.

Before starting from scratch, turn to the company’s brand for guidance. The brand defines the company’s beliefs and ideologies in an effort to influence how potential customers view the company. Internal company culture should reflect and mirror the external brand the company wants to cultivate. (If you don’t have a brand defined yet, now might be the time to get started on creating one.)

Pinpoint three to five qualities you’d like to develop in your employees. Southwest focuses on creating a culture of fun for employees and passengers to enjoy. Google thrives due to its focus on innovation and creativity. If you need further inspiration, here are more organizations with incredible company culture.

Step 3: How do you cultivate culture?

The culture committee should focus on identifying small and large changes to the company that will gradually impact the overall tone of the workplace. To get started:

  • Announce new your culture initiative
  • Implement projects or processes to encourage the culture (i.e., if it’s innovation you’re seeking, you can begin allowing employees to try new projects without repercussions if they fail)
  • Reevaluate the cultural progression every month
  • Appoint cultural ambassadors responsible for encouraging peers to engage with the desired culture

Step 4: “Who is accountable for culture?”

The final step (and the secret ingredient to cultivating culture) is accountability. Dr. Allen reminds us in the webinar, “It’s very hard to accomplish anything in business without accountability.”

Every department within the organization has other duties (some of which may seem more pressing than the company culture). Cultural ambassadors might forget about their cultural duties as they strive to accomplish more vital tasks. It’s not a matter of if this will happen, it’s a matter of how often it will happen. Accountability changes that.

Suddenly, culture isn’t a side project; it’s a task that will be evaluated in monthly, biannual and annual reviews. Failure to perform in that department will potentially affect raises or bonuses. With this change, culture does not become another child left behind. Accountability doesn’t ensure success, but it does give success a fighting chance.

Culture can seem like a steep hill to climb. Its importance is undeniable, and yet it can seem beyond control. But by taking small­–yet concrete–steps to cultivate company culture, you can achieve the healthy, happy and productive atmosphere your organization requires to thrive.

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