In the previous articles of the series on workplace culture, we showed you how to identify and evaluate your culture by examining the rules that govern behavior, the traditions that facilitate interactions, and people you employ. We turn now to the final topic in this series: how to improve your culture.
There’s no easy formula to fixing all cultural problems because each workplace is unique. The rules and traditions that lead one team to success might bring a different team to ruin. Some teams will thrive in a highly centralized environment, while others will reach new heights through delegated decision-making. Much depends on individual situations and circumstances. Nevertheless, successful groups have something in common: their people work well together.
That, really, is the goal of culture: to help people work well together. People work well together when they trust one another, feel a strong sense of community, care about one another’s success, and appreciate one another for who they are. Therefore, to improve your culture, you need to establish trust, build community, invest in your employees, and strive for diversity. Let’s look at each strategy in turn.
Trust is essential to build a great culture, but distrust often rules in the business world. Employees find it hard to trust their employer if they don’t believe that their employer cares about their wellbeing and personal success. And employers are less likely to trust their employees if they believe their employees are looking for work elsewhere or don’t buy into the mission and vision of the company. Some employers are even hesitant to train their workers because they’re worried that the employees will take the additional knowledge and skills to a competitor.
When people distrust one another, they keep things back and don’t collaborate as well as they could. Building trust takes time, but there are some proven ways to get started:
- When communicating with employees, be honest and open. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
- Don’t keep employees guessing about how they’re doing. Good performers should be told that they’re doing well. And poor performers should know well before an annual performance review that their work has been subpar. Offer praise and address problems right way.
- Be accountable and follow through on your policies. This is especially important when it comes to issues like harassment. Victims of harassment may not report harassment if they don’t believe that their employer will address the behavior and put a stop to it.
- Admit your mistakes. Employees are more likely to take responsibly for their goofs if you’ve set the example that admitting mistakes is okay because it helps people to do better.
- Then, finally, trust your employees. Trust is reciprocal. If you want trust, you have to show trust. A big way to show you trust your employees is to invest in them. Yes, they may take their training and experience to another company, but so what? You’re better off with trained employees than untrained and they’ll take good will toward your organization with them when they leave.
Communities form when people organize around a common purpose and shared beliefs. They stand the test of time when each person contributes in their own way to living those beliefs, when everyone works together towards that purpose, and when every person is valued for what they bring and, more importantly, for who they are.
A sense of community can give companies the strength they need to withstand the inevitable quakes and torrents of business life. Every company goes through challenging times. And when times are tough, you want your people to stick with you. If employees feel connected to a community within their organization, and that community is committed to the goals of the organization, then they have a reason to stay. It’s not “just a job,” but a shared endeavor that means something to them.
Now, how do you bring everyone together and foster a community? Start by clearly defining your mission. Every healthy community has something uniting it, binding it together. As a communal place, your workplace should also have a shared sense of purpose. At a company meeting or a staff retreat, discuss your company values and the purpose they serve. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Discuss your culture as a whole group and within your individual teams. If employees understand the mission of your organization and the culture that supports it, and if they see how they can contribute to the overall mission, they’ll be more personally invested.
With a shared sense of purpose, you can implement company rules and traditions that make cultural sense. If one of your values is openness to criticism and new ideas, then introduce an open-door policy with management, where employees can bring concerns and ideas to management's attention. If your company values trust and personal responsibility, you could consider offering unlimited PTO. Go through your policies, asking yourself how each represents one or more of your values. If some policies don’t