Culture is like a hairstyle: Everyone has one, even if they’re bald. You can either pursue a style that accurately reflects your personality, or you can pretend it doesn’t matter and end up looking like Edward Scissorhands.
If you haven’t been actively focused on your culture, it can be hard to see clearly. It’s the same reason you don’t understand the quirks of your family when you’re a kid, but as an adult, you can look back on them with clarity.
Whether you see it or not, culture is a big deal for several reasons.
1. Employee satisfaction. An overwhelming number of statistics reveal the negative consequences of low employee engagement. Dissatisfied workers lead to greater absenteeism, lower productivity and higher turnover rates. If your employees are dissatisfied or bored at work, you have a serious problem.
2. Financial performance. Your culture is apparent to outsiders you interact with (vendors, customers, business partners, etc.), and no one wants to work with a negative company. It’s hard to communicate a positive identity when negative things are happening in your organization.
For example, GitHub’s alpha-male culture apparently forced a female employee to quit. The PR and financial nightmare that ensued showed outsiders that it’s a bad place to work.
A positive culture attracts outsiders while creating excited employees who advocate for the company. Culture increases productivity and boosts your image to improve financial performance.
3. Personal benefits. One of the privileges of running a business is influencing how it’s run. You don’t get to separate yourself from the culture you create: You suffer or enjoy whatever environment develops.
Additionally, your personal values and character are reflected by your business, so make that image accurate.
Taking charge of your culture. Ninety percent of leaders realize the importance of an employee-engagement strategy, but only 25 percent actually have one. If you’re one of those leaders without a plan, here’s how to get one.
1. Understand your role. Leaders are responsible for creating the company’s vision and outlining its culture, and employees are responsible for bringing that culture to life. You can’t make people act a certain way, but you can guide behavior and act swiftly when it doesn’t align with the culture you want.
2. Communicate your vision thoroughly. Create a set of guiding principles or core beliefs, and make them part of everyday life at the company. Make them visible in the office and include them in handbooks, reviews and company-wide meetings.
Don’t leave it up to your employees to interpret your values, though. Articulate how to bring these values to life with tangible examples.
3. Practice recognition. Recognize and reward employees for living the culture. If you have a value that says you serve your community, recognize employees who are serving on nonprofit boards or using their lunch hour to volunteer.
4. Be consistent. Make sure your policies and procedures match the culture you’re trying to create. If your culture is about inclusion and diversity, your hiring practices need to align with that. Similarly, a CEO claiming the company has a family-friendly culture can’t have a fit when an employee has to leave early because his kid got sick at school.
This also goes for events. Plan and participate in events that embody your ideals, and do it as a team.
Even if you lucked out and have a nice culture without really trying, making it a focused priority can still be profitable and make your job more enjoyable. And if you step back and realize your culture is comparable to Edward Scissorhands’ hair, these strategies can give you the makeover you need.