What is company culture? How would you define it? Are you able to recognize it while you’re in it? Every company says the right things when asked to define its’ culture but as the old saying goes, “The proof is in the pudding”.  How does the organization really behave? Who actually gets promoted, rewarded and who gets let go? Those are just a few of the tell-tale signs of what a company really values.

I just read an article stating that Enron had the following words written in their corporate lobby: Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence.  Can you imagine that? A company whose very name has become synonymous with greed, scandal and malfeasance had those words as defining their culture.  It just goes to show how important it is for a business to “walk the talk”.

Company culture tells a prospective employee what a company is like to work for.  It also provides daily feedback to those currently employed about what the organization values. Company culture can include the company mission, values, ethics, expectations, goals, and work environment. Some companies have a team-based culture where a low-level employee can participate in discussions with executives, while others have a more formal “chain-of-command” style form of management. A company’s core values have to become guideposts for how they make decisions.

Here are a few examples of opportunities where a positive company culture can be created:

Empowering your employees. Your staff has to feel that their opinions matter and further that they matter; both as employees and as people.  Think about it. When someone you care about doesn’t listen to you, how does it make you feel? Do you solicit their feedback? Are any of their suggestions implemented? Sometimes it can even be worthwhile to incentivize employees with bonuses when they provide ideas that either save money or increase revenue.

Volunteerism. What sort of corporate citizen is your company? How does your organization interact with the larger community? Being connected to volunteering is a great experience and morale booster for the entire company.  Blood drives, tutoring and local schools, neighborhood clean-up projects, are just a few examples.  Some companies actually provide paid volunteer opportunities for employees.

Addition by subtraction.  As I said earlier, a lot of what you value gets communicated by who you keep and who you terminate.  In my career I’ve witnessed companies hanging on to employees who were complainers, alleged sexual harassers, and trouble-makers.  The sooner you get rid of such people, the better. In addition, it communicates to one and all the type of behavior that is expected.

Recognition. Recognizing and acknowledging employees for a job well done.  On many surveys employees state that recognition is even more satisfying to them than money.  At first blush this sounds like heresy but proper recognition is a HUGE motivator.  What do I mean by “proper”?  Avoiding the sort of award system where everyone receives one.  In order be truly meaningful there has to be a measure of exclusivity. 

Fun at the office. Do you want fun to be a part of your corporate culture? I’ve been involved in some really creative events at the workplace: Carnivals on site, Casino night at the office(after hours of course), having a night at the races (at a local track), etc.   There have also been fun events during office hours: “Tea Time” where department members meet for 30 minutes, one member brings snacks for the group and we would sit around and talk about any interesting subject other than work.  Another creative outlet was to take another 30 minute time frame during the week and play a game such as Pictionary or Taboo and provide small prizes for the winner(s).  These events were never mandatory and employees always looked forward to these short diversions from work.

Advancement opportunities. One of the most frustrating things that I’ve dealt with in my career was the curtailment of training and development opportunities.  Usually, around the same time it’s normal to notice advancement opportunities drying up. You can just imagine how employees’ enthusiasm would begin to wane in this sort of environment.  To be fair, the economy is usually the primary determinant in these types of situations, so just having work is a blessing.  It’s important to remember that when employees have hope for a brighter tomorrow they will buy in 100% to what they do today.

Reinforcing culture through hiring practices.  This is becoming more and more common. I wrote a blog about this several weeks ago. These days, more companies are placing more emphasis on new hires being a fit rather than on their technical skills.

Mission of purpose. What is the overall corporate mission and how do I fit into it? Employees want to feel that their work efforts are contributing to something bigger than themselves. If you can communicate what the overall mission is and then find an effective method for letting your employees know how their jobs contribute to that goal, you will be well on your way to building a thriving workplace.













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