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Investing in Company Culture Is Your Strongest Asset — Here's Why. A guide to the importance of company culture and empowering employees for a prosperous workplace.

By Joe Ennen Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • By establishing a company culture that people aspire to be part of, you position your organization as the employer of choice.
  • All executives should evaluate their company culture and commit to meaningfully investing in their people.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Leaders possess the ability to steer company culture in the right direction, but ultimately, it is the people who shape it. Company culture sustains high-performing teams and focuses the work of an organization on achieving common goals. Early in my career, I realized that company culture is an organization's most powerful asset. In my current role, I frequently ask both current and prospective employees, "What do you enjoy about working here?"

If you hold a leadership position, ask your staff similar culture-specific questions and genuinely contemplate the responses you receive. If company culture emerges as the leading response, you're on the right track. If it does not, it's essential to deeply examine your company's structure and explore ways to improve the culture. As the CEO of a global food and beverage company with a passionate focus on sustainability, innovation and community, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with individuals at all levels. This experience taught me that a strong company culture lays the foundation for a successful organization.

Most companies have nearly identical strategies aimed at achieving the same goal. So, what sets the winners apart? Culture. A culture that prioritizes executing strategies, attracts the best-in-class talent, instills a desire to go above and beyond, fosters a passionate drive for success and promotes teamwork over ego. Unified by culture, companies can successfully zig while others zag.

My organization refers to these values as our "Most Valuable Behaviors." By embodying our most valuable behaviors, we transform vision into reality.

Related: Company Culture Comes From Good Leadership

'I make a difference' vs. 'We make a difference'

"I make a difference" refers to the personal impact and accountability that both leadership and each employee hold. Clear roles, feeling valued and direct personal accountability are essential. The health of an organization revolves around its people. It falls upon the organization's leadership team to establish a workplace culture where all employees are valued, respected and provided with ample growth opportunities. Good leaders push and challenge their teams, often believing in their team members more than their team members believe in themselves. Motivated professionals rise to the occasion, and in turn, feel more connected to the company, regardless of their position or tenure, resulting in significant outcomes.

"We make a difference" refers to how each team member's contributions collectively contribute to the organization's success. When an organization upholds a corporate mission that reflects a higher purpose, a purpose that employees take pride in and that truly makes a difference, each employee's unique value proposition transcends into the prosperity of the organization.

Empower your people

To empower a workforce, establishing a positive culture is critical. However, a healthy workplace alone is not sufficient to ensure all employees have the necessary resources and tools to succeed and grow. For instance, employees will feel more engaged if they are provided with a clear path for continued growth within their roles. Effective leaders should be aware of what their employees find important and what they value about their positions. To foster a workplace with the highest morale, engage your people to understand what inspires them and what they value, and continue building on that foundation.

Engage in open conversations with your team and deliver on your commitments. Encourage creative dialogue by seeking ideas and suggestions for workplace improvements from your team. Strive to say "yes" to 19 out of 20 ideas to build trust and show employees that their contributions matter. Leaders must make decisions — that's their most important role in a company. As CEO, I don't add value by running the plants, making the ads, calling on customers or formulating products; I bring value by saying "yes." Large corporations are filled with hundreds of people empowered to say "no" and very few empowered to say yes. "Yes" is the tip-off. The long-term benefits of providing your team with a platform to enact change in the workplace will be well worth the investment.

Related: Empowering Your People Is the Best Decision You Can Make. Here's Why.

Passion is the fuel

To propel an organization forward, both the team and leaders must align with the company's goals and bottom line. This applies not only to business but also to life — passion fuels everything. It's important to recognize that your personal passions may differ from those of the collective team and vice versa. It takes humility to acknowledge these differences but embracing them leads to impactful change.

Encourage your team to pursue their own passions. Motivate them to lead in employee engagement efforts focused on inclusion and philanthropy. There is room to incorporate your employees' passions into their daily work, allowing you to truly bring the company's mission to the masses. This elevates morale and inspires your team to work towards company-wide goals, with their passions at the forefront. When team members can voice their thoughts, company culture becomes a mosaic. A mosaic wouldn't be the same if only one person contributed. Similarly, a mosaic becomes more beautiful when everyone contributes to the picture.

Having worked in the food and beverage industry for nearly three decades, I firmly believe building an exceptional company culture is the key to an organization's longevity and growth. By establishing a company culture that people aspire to be a part of, you position your organization as the employer of choice. I urge all executives to evaluate their company culture and commit to meaningfully investing in their people. As a leader, it is your duty to ensure that you build a workforce of motivated, high-achieving individuals. Your team will thrive when they feel valued, heard and can clearly see their work is an integral part of the company's success.

Joe Ennen

CEO of SunOpta

Joe Ennen is the CEO of SunOpta, a pioneer fueling the future of sustainable plant-based and fruit-based food and beverages. An expert in driving dynamic growth at scale and building a vibrant company culture, Ennen believes in the power of people to build a more sustainable future.

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