Executives, managers, and HR professionals alike dedicate time and energy to improving company culture. But how many of them can really say what company culture is? Developing a company culture that attracts, engages, and retains employees takes more than starting a few scattershot initiatives and crossing your fingers. It requires educating everyone at your company on why culture matters, identifying the elements that contribute to an amazing company culture, and taking proven steps to strengthen those elements.
This guide addresses all of these points and more, so you can start driving positive cultural change at your company today.
What is company culture?
Company culture is everything that defines your organization, from its set of company values and vision statement to leadership’s behavior and expectations. An exceptional company culture makes all employees feel like they belong and inspires them to perform excellent work on a daily basis. Smart organizations focus on the cultural elements that inspire and matter to team members, like employee recognition and an inclusive work environment, and reap the rewards. But enterprises that let company culture slide to the back burner — or worse, actively contribute to a toxic workplace culture — will experience mounting dysfunction and employee discontent.
The benefits of a great company culture
Company culture impacts almost every aspect of your organization. Without a great culture to offer, your company might not be able to attract the talent it needs to stay competitive: over half of the respondents to a Glassdoor survey said that culture matters more than salary. That’s why it’s so important to make a healthy company culture part of your employer brand. A toxic culture is a leading predictor of employee attrition as well, so building a great company culture is one of the best ways to boost employee retention and combat the Great Resignation.
7 elements of exceptional company cultures
Even the cultures of the most successful enterprises vary based on each company’s unique organizational DNA. But there are some common threads that run through great company cultures, and these key cultural elements are worth prioritizing at your company.
Every employee wants to know that they and their contributions to your company are appreciated. If an employee only receives appreciation when they benefit your company financially, it feels like the employee-employer relationship is purely transactional. A real culture of recognition goes beyond the occasional word of thanks when a team member works overtime or secures a new deal to encourage and sustain recognition at all levels on a daily basis.
A sense of belonging is perhaps the most multifaceted aspect of company culture — and one of the most important. It involves welcoming team members from the moment they first interact with your organization and ensuring that managers take the time to know each and every one of their employees, from their career aspirations to their values. When employees have a genuine sense of connection to your enterprise, you know you’ve established a company culture that’s truly special.
Of course, employees aren’t likely to feel like they belong at an organization if they don’t trust management or the enterprise as a whole. Team members must have the confidence needed to express their opinions freely and innovate. If they fear they won’t be accepted if they express themselves genuinely, they’re unlikely to respond positively to any of your organization’s cultural initiatives. Practicing transparency regarding key company decisions, soliciting and acting on feedback, and training managers on how to establish an environment of psychological safety are just a few ways to build trust at your company.
If your employees don’t share your company’s goals and cultural aspirations, then either your organizational vision or workforce must change. Cultural alignment keeps the foundations of your company’s success intact by continually motivating employees and reinforcing the cultural traits your organization values most.
Your company culture needs to weather the bad times along with the good — failing to adapt to a new normal can render a previously excellent culture quickly obsolete, and this failure can cause your team members to seek employment with a more resilient enterprise. Take advantage of new trends like remote and hybrid work arrangements while remaining focused on the basics, like employee wellness and work-life balance, to ensure your company culture is strong enough to handle whatever tomorrow brings.
People leaders at your organization, from the C-suite on down, have the largest influence on company culture. They determine whether employees love working at your organization, can’t wait to leave it, or are simply ambivalent. Team members will emulate managers and other leaders, regardless of whether they’re micromanagers who keep everyone on edge or coaches who display understanding and patience on a daily basis. HR professionals should train all leaders on the importance of displaying empathy and supporting rather than undermining their teams — and if employees consistently provide negative feedback regarding certain leaders, don’t be afraid to show them the door.
While leaders set the tone at your organization, a purely top-down approach to improving company culture is doomed to failure. Instead, look to build culture organically by fostering teamwork and healthy work relationships. Team building activities can help — even if your workforce is partially or fully remote — but they’re only part of the equation. Help establish the connections your company culture relies on by enabling peer-to-peer recognition, providing opportunities for collaboration within and across teams, and doubling down on creating an inclusive atmosphere where employees can be themselves.
Change your company culture for the better
Balancing the elements above while carrying on day-to-day responsibilities is a significant task for any HR professional. But there’s no need to go it alone. With the Achievers Employee Experience Platform, your organization has a connected ecosystem of products dedicated to activating company culture. It includes Achievers Recognize, a science-backed tool that supports frequent and impactful recognition at all levels of your organization, and Achievers Listen, an employee engagement solution that provides all the insights needed to shape your culture for the better.
Achievers’ clients are 3.6 times more likely to provide recognition multiple times per month and 36% more likely to increase employee engagement.