6 Steps to Building a Company Culture

Photograph of Jenefer Livings, Founder of Silk Helix Ltd
19 May 2022
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The buzz word of the moment, culture and the importance of company culture - and it’s not just us HR folk talking about culture, we’re hearing it a lot from those in marketing too. This doesn’t surprise me, for a long time here in HR we’ve been talking about the importance of looking after your people so they look after your customers.

But, what are we really talking about? Bean bags, slides, ping pong tables have become less trendy since the pandemic. The reality is, this never was culture. Bean bags, slides, free fruit (the list goes on) will not make a culture, in fact I’ll go as far to argue they’re likely to be a cost with very little if any return on investment. Culture will not be created by a weekend office refurb, it’s not a quick win.

Culture requires some effort to build, the good news - that effort has a whole host of rewards.

Why do we need company culture?

  • A great culture is talked about by your team. It can be identified and described. People are looking for it. All of this will reduce your cost to hire as it makes finding people easier.
  • You’ll retain great people because they love working for you. They’re achieving and know how they’re contributing to a greater goal. Retaining people is cheaper than hiring people - second tick to reducing costs.
  • Your people will know what is expected of them, this will improve productivity and ensure people are productive doing the things that drive the company forward. You’ll achieve more. You’ll stop aimlessly hiring and know exactly who you need, when and why and what the return on investment is for that role.
  • Your customers will feel it, they’ll get great service which they’ll talk about in reviews and even tell their friends about. This goes on to lower your marketing costs as your customers start marketing for you.
  • You’ll reduce sickness absence. Sickness absence is damaging to productivity, it lets down customers and prevents the whole team achieving. Reduce absence and you reduce these costly issues.

How to Build a Company Culture in 6 steps

1. Decide who you are as a company

Your mission statement sets out your purpose and values. It’s the start to building a healthy company culture. A mission statement needs to be more than a statement, it’s living, breathing and ensures everyone knows the overall goal and is moving in the same direction. Values direct the decision making, take for example sustainability - if sustainability is a value then every business decision will be made with a sustainable outcome.

2. Set Expectations

Knowing where you’re going as a company is great, this now needs to be translated into goals for teams and individuals.

Everyone must know exactly what is expected of them and what good looks like. People normally like to achieve. When they know what it looks like to achieve, people will strive to reach it.

When people know how their contribution fits into the greater goal and can see for themselves their progress this helps with giving feedback as individuals can see for themselves how they’re doing.

Alongside setting expectations it’s crucial to continuously remind people of the goal and their progress - thank, praise and reward so they know when they’re doing well as well as redirecting them when progress isn’t meeting expectations.

3. Invest in your Managers

The culture individuals experience day to day isn’t the one the senior leadership decides on but the relationship with their line Manager. One of the biggest mistakes made is promoting people to management because they are good at their job and then not supporting them with the new skill set needed to be a Manager.

Train your Managers, work with them to ensure they know the mission and how their team fits so they can translate that to individuals. Regardless of experience, educate all your Managers about what it looks like to be a Manager in your organisation.

4. Support Healthy Employees

Recognise that physically and mentally healthy employees are successful ones. Healthy employees experience success in all areas of their life, which means they have breaks from work.

Long hours and excessive stress will result in people feeling like they’re letting down other parts of their life, maybe feeling like they’re failing as a parent when they miss events and family admin - this has a negative impact on their ability to achieve success at work.

We can and should value success in more than one area of our lives, successful family lives, volunteering or enjoying hobbies does not reduce commitment and achievement at work.

5. Hire for Culture

Hiring for culture went out of fashion when it was considered discriminatory. It is discriminatory if you’re suggesting a woman wouldn’t be a good cultural fit because the department is all male and a very masculine atmosphere. When we’re talking about hiring for culture we’re not talking about demographics.

When the mission and values are clear you can and should hire people who support that mission and have similar values. Taking the sustainability example, someone who values sustainability will be looking to work for organisations focused on sustainability. That said, there is also value in diversity and challenge. You should value different opinions on how your values can be achieved. Diversity remains important - a focus on values should not prevent hiring people of different backgrounds who can bring different views to the table.

6. Share Information

Your people need to know the mission, the values and how that translates to individual roles. They need to understand the customer experience, what good looks like, how your service is being sold and how it should be delivered. Taking on experienced people does not mean they know how to do things your way.

Effective organisations have repeatable processes as well as their mission, values and expectations.

Information needs to be in a format that is easy to understand, accessible and can be referred to when needed. Sending out emails or slack messages and relying on each individual to store the information in an effective way is not efficient. Using wiki tools and other information storage and retrieval systems ensures everyone has what they need to know when they need to know it.

In addition, reminding people on a regular basis keeps those key points in mind. Making searching information a habit. Referring to values when decision making and have the mission on display. These are all good reminders to people.

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