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How to Create a Great Company Culture
By Christine Clemmens
Culture: it’s a term you probably hear quite frequently, and is one worth discussing. We all want more than just a job, but it is difficult to objectively define the term because what is a “great culture” for one person may be different for another. I might want a company with tons of perks like free coffee, Happy Hour Fridays, bean bag chairs, and a flexible schedule. My co-worker, on the other hand, might want a CEO who values her opinion and dutifully listens to employees, an environment where she feels appreciated, and a high salary. According to Timothy Lloyd, Senior Manager of U.S. Open Operations at the United States Golf Association, organizational culture is how members of an organization communicate and interact with one another on a daily basis - the way the organizational leaders encourage people to work together, the allowance for difference of opinion to be shared and how new ideas are brought on board, the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the goals and mission of the organization and how each member is cultivated to feel they own a part of the effort.
So how can a great company culture be created if everyone’s definition starts out different? A common and respected definition is that culture is a set of processes within an organization that affects the total motivation of its people. It is differences in behavior, values, beliefs, and motivation based on cultural heritage (Shani, Chandler, Coget, & Lau, 2009, p. 496). Here are my top four elements that are integral to creating a great company culture:
Creating a fun, relaxed, and inclusive environment
With Millennials soaring into the workforce as Baby Boomers are retiring, it is becoming increasingly important to pay attention to what motivates employees. Gone are the days where having your own office is a sign that you’ve made it; instead, employees are hoping for the type of atmosphere that helps encourage creativity and innovation – bean bag chairs, a coffee cart, free lunch, open floor plans. Our external environment has a significant influence on our internal thought process and work ethic, and employers must uncover the various motivators for employees and act on them. Figuring out this piece of the puzzle helps attract the type of people who value the kind of culture you’re trying to build.
Encourage growth and ownership
…but a strong company culture isn’t just about perks and free stuff; it’s about empowering employees to make a difference. By encouraging growth and ownership of ideas, employees will feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions. Building an environment in which trust and encouragement are commonplace allows for employees to excel, in turn helping the company to flourish.
Possibly the most important aspect of creating a great company culture is communication; not just communication between employees and departments, but communication of values, goals, and new ideas. Communicate these things openly and frequently, both internally and externally. When employees begin to understand the company culture, values, and goals there will be more buy-in and opportunities for advancement. Be sure your employees have opportunities to ask questions and share knowledge. Provide them the opportunity to lead through example while also learning from leadership that actions speak louder than words. Rather than leaders sitting on a throne in their corner office dishing out directives, ensure everyone is pulling their weight and working alongside one another as part of a team. If an employee isn’t performing adequately, let them know; engage in thoughtful conversation and create an improvement plan. Everyone will benefit.
All too often I hear employers say, “we offer phenomenal perks, isn’t that enough?” The answer is no, perks alone aren’t enough to attract or retain good employees. However, if perks such as Summer Fridays and a coffee cart are combined with the intangibles – positive attitudes, strong relationships, and genuine appreciation – employees will be more apt to jump on board and stay there. Feeling valued and appreciated means something different for everyone, so ask employees what works for them. Do they like to be recognized publicly in a meeting, or privately by email or a hand-written note? Do they like to hear you say “thank you” or would they prefer something more? As long as you know what matters to employees and follow through with it, employees will feel appreciated and full of gratitude. Don’t substitute perks for meaningful recognition. Ensure that no employee, at any level within the company, ever feels left out. Empower everyone to thank one another when it’s deserved and recognize one another in a way that is significant to the individual. Acknowledging these small things will help build a strong organizational culture.
All of these elements help build the type of workplaces that inspire greatness. A company culture that facilitates employee happiness and loyalty means lower turnover, higher engagement, and better company performance.
Shani, A. B., Chandler, D., Coget, J., & Lau, J. (2009). Behavior in Organizations: An Experiential Approach(9th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill.