5 Steps to Creating a Company Culture That Sticks

by the EBS team

Ping pong tables, unlimited vacation, and a closet of healthy snacks are all things that sound like the makings of great culture, but are those really the offerings that create ambassadors for your company and generate an enviable work environment? Offices are often plagued with extremes; either pride in a fun-loving culture that boasts freedom and oodles of autonomy, or businesses that expect excellence to the point where working after 5PM isn’t only encouraged, but expected.

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Businesses from start-ups to legacy giants all run the risk of letting a toxic culture run the show. Even with sincere intentions, good cultures require robust feedback-focused systems to ensure that their foundational values have not taken a backseat to convenience and their bottom line. In a hyper-connected world, office negativity can spread as quickly as clicking the ‘post’ button on Facebook, but the truth is that employees are feeling more disconnected than ever from their company’s decision-makers because of broken feedback loops.

As you look to (re)build and retain a team that will help your business grow in the right direction, an examination of your current culture is imperative. Making some smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) adjustments to your current plan will work wonders. Below, our team has outlined five key steps to creating a company culture that puts your people first.

Step 1 – Revisit Your Core Values

We believe that the only first step in defining your corporate culture is to first clarify your core values. Rules often find themselves disguised as values in a company that’s struggling with culture. So instead of preaching punctuality, identify the value behind it. That’s where you’ll find your business’ guiding principles. Putting the emphasis on accountability makes a stronger statement that each employee has a responsibility to the overall mission as a contributing member of a team. Do you see the difference?

Step 2 – Differentiate Perks from Culture

Focusing solely on adding extravagant office perks may give you some luck attracting candidates, but you’ll have a harder time retaining them. Culture is comprised of so many intangible sentiments that employees build over time. Perks, on the other hand, are mostly meant to be short-term satisfiers that are supplemental, supportive to and most importantly, aligned, with a company’s mission and values. Relying too heavily on office perks is short-lived and will eventually leave you on the side of the road with a flat tire.

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Similarly, deciding on what keg to tap in the common room over re-structuring for workplace flexibility says to your employees that their professional and personal development isn’t a priority. Instead, find out what motivates them by asking. And, guaranteed they all don’t want the same thing. Some are driven by work-life balance; others would rather make an extra $20K a year and hey, maybe you discover that you’ve got a bunch of unsung musicians who miss jammin’ with their high school bands. Once you’ve got that data, customize your solutions based on that feedback, and in a way that demonstrates empathy and understanding towards their wants and needs. And throw that one-size-fits-all model to the curb. Yes, the process is more time-consuming but will pay in dividends down the road.

Step 3 – Spend More Time Implementing, Less Time Bragging

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Having a great set of core values that yields worthwhile employee outcomes is fantastic, but companies who constantly showboat about their culture can turn off potential candidates who are on the hunt for a new gig. So show, don’t tell. Just as a writer would, instead of telling everyone you “work hard, play hard,” help candidates and your people experience your company’s story through actions, content, conversations and feelings. Instead of preaching accountability, make accountability a part of your team’s normal way of operating. Talk about it, share ideas, and then use them as the cornerstone everyone works from as they make accountability an organizational goal.

Step 4 – Empower Internal Brand Ambassadors

Employees are looking for a purpose for their job that is clear, concise, and has an impact on the world around them. Giving team members the power to put those concepts into action is everything. Let’s look a brand known for their culture: Virgin America. This company instilled an internal mission statement that read “Be Virgin. Create Wow. Elevate People.” A seemingly ambiguous statement, the reasoning behind it was to allow these values to manifest themselves in ways that were individually meaningful to each employee, providing them with the creative freedom to apply culture-centric concepts to their everyday jobs. Whether that resulted in team members playing music at check-in, gate agents automatically upgrading uniformed service members, or ground crew dancing their way back to the terminal, they felt like they had their hand in developing and embodying a memorable brand.

By giving your employees a code to live by in which they can bring their own interpretations into the mix, you can create ambassadors who generate peer-encouraged actions driven by culture and an amazing experience for clients. As Virgin’s brand genius and creator, Richard Branson says,“If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers.” We can’t identify a better outcome than that.

Step 5 -Hire Those Who Care About Your Culture

Many businesses are flirting with the idea of letting their workplace cultures develop naturally. While we see the value in building a unique set of principles and ideals based off of personalities and collective passions, we caution those who adopt an overly laissez-faire approach. Culture requires daily attention, active monitoring and several full-time experts to ensure you’re not only attracting the best talent but retaining the right talent.

New-hire Meaghan, for example, is much more likely to remain a valuable company resource over time if she feels strongly connected to your footwear company’s mission to teach athletics to underserved children in Ecuador. In other words, a person brought on to the team due to their cultural fit is more likely to remain loyal and a brand advocate than a candidate who accepted your job offer because he wanted free shoes.

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Start with the interview process. Any team members involved in interviewing candidates must not only have a solid understanding of your business culture but be able to communicate the ways in which your culture is sewn into the day-to-day threads. Asking candidates straight-out if they’ll be a fit with your company culture won’t cut the mustard and may leave you without a clear answer. Smart and even disingenuous candidates are keen to what you want to hear and might deliver a canned reply. Instead, give candidates opportunities to interact with key team members. Bringing them on an office tour, allowing them to chat in the break room, or even inviting them on a company outing is a great way to gauge whether or not their personality will elevate others. Or, simply ask them what types of company values they deem important – a prime opportunity to determine whether to bring them aboard.

The pressure to have a great company culture can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. These five steps can serve as a cornerstone to building a culture that you can be proud of – one that won’t only be great for your people but will ultimately have positive impacts across your business in the long run.

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