Honestly, work culture is everything. I talk so much about employee engagement but the foundation that engagement stands upon is CULTURE. But what exactly is it?
Work culture is made up of all of the tangible and intangible pieces of your company. Tangibly, it includes your policies, your day-to-day operations, your hiring and recruitment efforts, the diversity of your team, and all the way to the furniture and equipment in your workplace. Intangibly, it’s how all of those tangible pieces of the puzzle make your employees feel.
When you’re working in a dirty, outdated office with no windows how do you feel? When your policies state that you are not to work after hours without prior approval but your boss texts you every night with questions, how does that feel?
Let’s talk about the top 10 things that make up the most successful work cultures (in no particular order).
A truly exceptional work culture can only grow upon the foundation of TRUST. This means management trusting staff, clients trusting employees, frontline employees trusting leadership, and everyone trusting the vision and mission. Some people start off giving trust until you lose it, and others take time to build up trust based on actions. How do your actions as a leader contribute to a culture of trust (or not)? How do your company’s actions as a collective contribute to a culture of trust (or not)?
Are you a control freak? Do you realize that controlling nature, although not malicious in intent, communicates a lack of trust to your team? Does your leadership preach company values of equity and inclusion? How do you think trust is communicated to your team when they hear those values talked about but then see that women of color in your organization make only 61 cents on the dollar compared to the white men in your company? Trust doesn’t come from thin air and it certainly doesn’t come from the shadows.
Intentional Work Spaces
Your physical work space creates a lot of the “vibe” in your company culture. The difference between a workplace with old computers that take 30 minutes to boot up each morning and a workplace with technology that helps your teams do their work efficiently and effectively are night and day (pun intended because natural light makes all the difference y’all!).
Do you give your employees a chance to personalize their workspace? How about allowing them to request a standing desk or a comfortable chair? Does your staff have space to make private client phone calls or meet with clients one-on-one? Do they have space to collaborate and bounce ideas off of their colleagues?
Yes, I realize these are “investments” but they are reasonable and you’d be surprised what a difference it can make in your employee’s engagement with the space they actually work in each day.
True Feedback Loops
A ton of workplaces talk about how they have great feedback loops but in reality they have a feedback box that gets checked once or twice a year and never results in any change in the workplace. True feedback loops include regularly scheduled opportunities for your teams to share their ideas and thoughts with leadership, and then receive follow-up as those ideas are truly researched and explored. True feedback loops include safe spaces where teams are allowed to brainstorm without being immediately cut down with reasons why something won’t work. They include opportunities to speak in groups, one-on-one, in public, and anonymously. Most of all feedback MUST be acted upon to truly create the foundation of an innovative, inclusive workplace culture.
The best workplace cultures know that they don’t need managers, they need coaches. They also know that working from a strengths-based approach with their teams will significantly increase their employee engagement and success. When we maximize the unique strengths of our employees, we allow them to do what they do best every single day, which in turn fills them up and helps them to produce their best work. When we fixate on our employee’s weaknesses we come from a place of “lack”, our employees lose confidence and start disengaging from the workplace.
Now I’m not saying that we don’t need to develop our employees or correct them when they’re off track, but rather that we be strategic on how we delegate work and tasks amongst our teams to maximize individual strengths. Just think about it – are you more excited to do something you’re great at or more excited to do something you know you’re horrible at?
This is a biggie. To create the best company culture your communication needs to be clear, frequent, transparent, and flow in all directions (up and down the chain of command). Your direct reports should be having one-on-one time with you each and every week, they should have avenues to ask for help or propose solutions, and all levels should feel a level of transparency across the organization. And just a heads-up, an “open-door policy” is not enough. You as the leader need to create the space, schedule the time, and respect the time committed to communicating regularly with your team as a whole and as individuals.
Willingness to Sit in the Mud
I was working with a group of amazing educators awhile back and one said to all of us that if we wanted to make true culture change we had to be “willing to sit in the mud”. This rocked my world! We as leaders have to be willing to sit in the discomfort of difficult conversations, difficult transitions in our companies, and tough times. A lot of leaders try to “shield” their teams from the difficult conversations and transitions – or want to run and hide from the tough times. You can never create a positive work culture from the shadows, even if you’re doing it with what you think are good intentions.
When something goes terribly wrong, be the pillar of strength in your company. Encourage the team to have open, raw, difficult conversations that move toward healing and recovery – and you have to lead by example to create that space. Be willing to sit in the mud so you and your teams can emerge better on the other side.
Great cultures can only exist where accountability exists as well. That means that you as a leader work to fiercely protect the company culture each and every day. It means that teams work together and call one another in on each person’s role and responsibilities to the team. It means that you don’t turn a blind eye to your “problem” employee. It means that you confront office gossip as soon as it starts. It means that you own your mistakes and expect others to do the same. It means that everyone is required to be a team player – and when someone breaks those cultural norms it’s acted upon quickly and fairly.
The days of work-life balance are over, we need work-life integration. There is no clear line between work and home anymore, especially with technology at our fingertips 24/7. We need to be in workplaces of trust where the culture allows employees to take care of their life during traditional work hours, knowing that almost all of us are taking care of some work during traditional “home” hours. Be open to alternative work schedules, remote working, and other flexible options that allow your employees to feel valued as humans (not just butts in seats). Trust me, and the research, your employees will be more productive because of it.
Create an environment where positive relationships are encouraged – better yet, friendships are encouraged. Research shows us that when an employee has a best friend at work they are more likely to be engaged, meaning better work product and success for the company. Create opportunities for your teams to get to know one another, build relationships, build trust, and have fun together. It will pay off in dividends!
Last, but certainly not least, great work cultures tend to line up with companies that are aligned with PURPOSE. Millennials and Gen Z especially demand that their work be purposeful – that it is connected to helping and changing the world. Have a clear and powerful mission, and make sure that you can connect each and every position back to helping to fulfill that mission. Make sure that your company doesn’t just write a mission, vision and values but that your leadership and teams LIVE out that mission, vision and company values.
So, What Now?
Okay, so now you know the key elements that create an amazing work culture – what pieces do you see at play in your workplace already? Which ones are absent? Share with us in the comments below!
Oh and don’t worry, this is a series – so up next we’ll be going through how to get your employees involved in creating and maintaining a great culture, how to implement culture change as a manager or supervisor, and the role of executives in culture change.