Definitive guide to building a lasting work culture

The road to fostering an enduring work culture is long and arduous. You need to have the courage of your conviction to practice it in letter and spirit.
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We have all heard of companies like Zappos and Buffer which are well known for their great culture and the direct and indirect benefits associated with it. A strong company culture enables every organisation, big or small, to work efficiently towards the vision that seeds its inception. It is the amalgamation of values, beliefs, vision, work environment, and internal behaviour. It is the overall personality of your company.

So, how do you inculcate good culture in your company? I wanted an answer to this question a few years back but could not find it easily. After experimenting with a lot of things, talking to hundreds of people, reading several books, I have developed a 4-step process that can be used to build a good culture in any company.

Step 1: Preparing the foundation

Building culture is a long-haul journey. Once you have decided that you want to focus on building a good culture for the company, the first step is to prepare the foundation for the same.

Without creating a foundation you will find it very difficult to create a healthy culture in the company. Following are two of the most important aspects of setting up a good foundation:

Begin with defining them

Critically examine and consider all cultural values that are required for your company. What values should people possess while working? How should they treat your customers? How should the employees behave with each other? You can look at the values of a few other companies like Zappos, Amazon, Buffer, etc. These values will vary according to the nature of the business.

Once you know what you want, outline your cultural values very precisely. It is recommended to use simple language rather than fancy words, as our goal is to make everyone understand them.

You should involve your entire team before freezing the culture values. You will be surprised to hear the inputs of your team. Plus, this will onboard the entire team in the culture-building process.

Integrate the values in the existing processes and create new processes

Cultural values need to be integrated into all the existing processes of the company ranging from recruitment to business deals. Few examples of how this can be done are as below:

  • Recruitment - While recruiting, integrate the cultural values in your hiring criteria. If needed, introduce a separate cultural round to evaluate if the candidate will be the right fit for the organization or not.
  • Training - Introduce a training round to communicate your cultural values. This will help the new joinees understand the meaning of the values. Without this, they are some random statements. This training should be taken by someone who believes in the values the most. I recommend that one of the founders should take this training.
  • Policies - The company policies should be in cohesion with the values. For instance, if trust is one of the cultural values in your company and you are tracking the attendance of your team members using biometric or asking them to produce doctor receipts when they call in sick, then the very foundation of trust is being questioned by your company itself. Hence, these conditions should not be used. Constantly review your policies and get rid of things that are contradictory to what you are advocating in your values document. Make changes in the policies to align them with the values.
  • Set up new rituals/processes - Create new processes to ensure that people can see the values in practice. For example, if you are focussed on the growth of the team then there should be processes like OKR and performance review set up to reflect the same. If celebration is an important part of your culture, then create avenues so that people can celebrate their wins.
  • Recognise the torchbearers - It is natural for some people to connect with your vision of setting up a good culture and they will become its torchbearer. It is very important to recognise their efforts and highlight them as role models. Tell stories to the entire team on how these torchbearers are making an impact on the company and its culture.


Step 2: Implementation

Execute the processes defined in step 1 with utmost discipline

Building culture is an important aspect of building the company but not an urgent one. There will always be a feedback delay if you don't focus on it. Therefore, you will have to follow the processes/rituals we have defined in step 1 with the utmost discipline.

Top management should lead by example

The leaders of the company should be actively involved in the process of driving culture. Make sure all the top management leaders and managers are following or talking about it with the people regularly.

They should lead by example. One of the most important things to consider is to onboard new leaders regarding the company's culture.

Repeat them as much as possible

Repetition is the most essential part of this entire process. When new people are joining the team, they have already been familiarised with the traits during cultural training. But the main point is that you cannot leave it there. Just telling them about the company culture once is not enough.

It needs constant repetition via various channels. Team members need to hear about it continuously, to act upon it. Therefore, repeat them as much as possible.

Step 3: Take feedback

Now that you have defined the values, set up processes, and are diligently following them, it is time to take feedback from the team members. Reach out to the team and you will be surprised to hear what is the ground reality.

Here are some of the ways you can use to gather the feedback:

  • Team engagement/pulse survey
  • Culture-specific survey
  • Exit interviews
  • One-on-one with the team feedback


Step 4: Analyse and take action

You will get a lot of data points using the aforementioned methods. Go through them. Talk to team members in detail to understand the root cause of any issue which have been highlighted repeatedly by various team members.

Find out the solution and implement it. Sometimes you will be able to find the solutions easily. If needed, talk to leaders inside or outside the organisation to understand the possible solutions. Implement the solutions immediately. You might have to:

  1. make changes to your existing process to improve a wrongdoing;
  2. introduce a new policy to fix something;
  3. start a new ritual in the organisation to drive behavioral changes;
  4. schedule seminars of industry experts to spread desired information in the team;
  5. ask people to leave if they don't belong to the culture. Out of everything, this becomes super tricky when a high performer is ruining the company culture. At this stage, you have a choice to make -- business or culture? This will define how serious you are about your culture.

Does not matter what action you have to take, but take that immediately without any further delay.

Step 0: Think if you really want to do it

By far you must have realised that this is easier said than done. Think hard if you really want to sign up for the goal of having a good culture in the team. Don't just do it because everyone is doing it. Do it only if you feel deeply about it because you will have to lead by example.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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