In the previous articles of the series on workplace culture, we showed you how to identify and evaluate your culture by examining the rules that govern behavior, the traditions that facilitate interactions, and people you employ. We turn now to the final topic in this series: how to improve your culture.
There’s no easy formula to fixing all cultural problems because each workplace is unique. The rules and traditions that lead one team to success might bring a different team to ruin. Some teams will thrive in a highly centralized environment, while others will reach new heights through delegated decision-making. Much depends on individual situations and circumstances. Nevertheless, successful groups have something in common: their people work well together.
That, really, is the goal of culture: to help people work well together. People work well together when they trust one another, feel a strong sense of community, care about one another’s success, and appreciate one another for who they are. Therefore, to improve your culture, you need to establish trust, build community, invest in your employees, and strive for diversity. Let’s look at each strategy in turn.
"A workplace can contribute to its community by empowering the people who work there to seek their full potential."
Trust is essential to build a great culture, but distrust often rules in the business world. Employees find it hard to trust their employer if they don’t believe that their employer cares about their wellbeing and personal success. And employers are less likely to trust their employees if they believe their employees are looking for work elsewhere or don’t buy into the mission and vision of the company. Some employers are even hesitant to train their workers because they’re worried that the employees will take the additional knowledge and skills to a competitor.
When people distrust one another, they keep things back and don’t collaborate as well as they could. Building trust takes time, but there are some proven ways to get started:
- When communicating with employees, be honest and open. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Don’t keep employees guessing about how they’re doing. Good performers should be told that they’re doing well. And poor performers should know well before an annual performance review that their work has been subpar. Offer praise and address problems right way.
- Be accountable and follow through on your policies. This is especially important when it comes to issues like harassment. Victims of harassment may not report harassment if they don’t believe that their employer will address the behavior and put a stop to it.
- Admit your mistakes. Employees are more likely to take responsibly for their goofs if you’ve set the example that admitting mistakes is okay because it helps people to do better.
- Then, finally, trust your employees. Trust is reciprocal. If you want trust, you have to show trust. A big way to show you trust your employees is to invest in them. Yes, they may take their training and experience to another company, but so what? You’re better off with trained employees than untrained and they’ll take good will toward your organization with them when they leave.
Communities form when people organize around a common purpose and shared beliefs. They stand the test of time when each person contributes in their own way to living those beliefs, when everyone works together towards that purpose, and when every person is valued for what they bring and, more importantly, for who they are.
A sense of community can give companies the strength they need to withstand the inevitable quakes and torrents of business life. Every company goes through challenging times. And when times are tough, you want your people to stick with you. If employees feel connected to a community within their organization, and that community is committed to the goals of the organization, then they have a reason to stay. It’s not “just a job,” but a shared endeavor that means something to them.
Now, how do you bring everyone together and foster a community? Start by clearly defining your mission. Every healthy community has something uniting it, binding it together. As a communal place, your workplace should also have a shared sense of purpose. At a company meeting or a staff retreat, discuss your company values and the purpose they serve. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Discuss your culture as a whole group and within your individual teams. If employees understand the mission of your organization and the culture that supports it, and if they see how they can contribute to the overall mission, they’ll be more personally invested.
With a shared sense of purpose, you can implement company rules and traditions that make cultural sense. If one of your values is openness to criticism and new ideas, then introduce an open-door policy with management, where employees can bring concerns and ideas to management's attention. If your company values trust and personal responsibility, you could consider offering unlimited PTO. Go through your policies, asking yourself how each represents one or more of your values. If some policies don’t fit, maybe it’s time to get rid of them or find a way to bring them in line with your culture.
When the rules, traditions, and operations of your organization fit with its mission, they become a strong and flexible framework in which relationships can form, develop, and flourish. And when these relationships work towards a common purpose, then you have a strong community—diverse employees committed to the company’s mission and willing to accomplish great things together.
Help Your Employees Flourish
A workplace can contribute to its community by empowering the people who work there to seek their full potential. A workplace can be a place where people learn and master new skills, gain valuable life experience, form meaningful relationships, connect with the wider community, find meaning in their work, and contribute to the common good.
If you want to grow as a company, help your employees grow as individuals. Create a place where respect, empathy, and kindness are prized values. And remember that when you create rules and traditions, these rules and traditions are good in so far as they help people succeed. There’s an old saying that goes like this—"People don’t exist for the sake of rules; rules exist for the sake of people.” Your rules and traditions should make the interactions in your workplace more effective, productive, meaningful, and fulfilling.
Strive for Diversity
Look for people who will contribute to your culture and not just fit with it. Cultural fit is important in the sense that you don’t want people who will sabotage your culture or stifle your success, but every culture can be improved. Your ideal candidates will be those who buy into the core principles of your culture, but also bring unique backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas to the workplace.
A diverse and inclusive company is also a more welcoming place for people to work and spend a good portion of their lives. When people are valued for who they are and for what they have to bring, they’re more likely to inspired and engaged. But when people face bias, prejudice, or discrimination in the workplace, they are—predictably—less happy, less involved in the community, and less inclined to stay. Work to ensure that acceptance and openness to new kinds of people and new ideas are part of your culture and that your rules and traditions indicate that you practice what you preach.
This article concludes our series on workplace culture. Here's links to the other three: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3