Company culture is a lot more than ping pong tables and free snacks (though, those are pretty awesome perks). It’s something that is so visceral that it emboldens and embodies the very values that shape a compelling purpose behind your business.
But let’s let’s be honest, most of us don’t really understand what company culture really is and for that reason, it’s tough figuring out ways to bring life (or revive) the common tie that goes beyond the bottom-line.
So what exactly is culture? This Harvard Business Review article describes it pretty brilliantly:
"Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time."
And this is why culture matters; culture engages employees when nobody is looking. You want engaged employees because engagement means more passionate productivity. And when a business is more productive, it’s working faster, smarter, and making competition eat dust. Check out how Zappos sees culture as a business strategy:
Maybe your company doesn't have a Zappos budget, but supporting and fostering culture has to start somewhere. And it can start with addressing the most common culture killers. Here are the top 5 signs your company culture needs attention:
1. Productivity is Driven by Fear, Not Fun
Fear is the ultimate culture killer; it can cause hesitation, drive stress, and, perhaps most damaging, hold employees (and your organization) back from reaching full potential. While we all might have encountered a manager or executive that makes Darth Vader look like a teddy bear, it’s not always a singular person or consequence that fosters fear.
Fear can be driven by unclear communication on unrealistic expectations; one-on-one conversations are centered around correction rather than celebration; focus on what a top leaders want to hear rather than what they need to hear; reward is only contingent on results - not results and behavior.
If your organization is driven by fear, it's time to have those crucial conversations with leaders and start looking for ways to incorporate fun and be energized by mission.
2. High Turnover
Turnover varies in every industry and some level of voluntary turnover is healthy. But if you see a common theme in top talent leaving, it’s time for some evaluation. After all, you can’t expect employees to achieve business goals or build relationship with one another if team members are leaving as fast they are joining.
And it’s no surprise why this is a challenge for many employers: Gallup’s latest research shows that only 31% of employees are engaged at work (51% are disengaged and 17.5% actively disengaged - these are people with zero buy-in). Culture is vital in attracting and engaging talent.
Taking the time to identify and intentionally create company culture enables you to hire the right employees from the start and match them to an environment where they will thrive.
3. It’s 5 O’Clock and Most of the Office is Still Working
It’s no secret that we Americans struggle with work-life balance – even at some of the most innovative and benefit-generous companies. A recent report in the New York Times revealed that some workers at Amazon felt they could not take time off work for fear that it might cost them professionally.
Many workers are afraid that taking time off reflects negatively on their commitment to the organization. “If what’s available conflicts with the culture of the organization, people are going to feel uncomfortable using it,” says David Ballard, an executive form the American Psychological Association.
Despite near-universal acceptance of the importance of paid time off, 40% of workers left vacation time on the table in 2014. Leaders and the organization as a whole must place an emphasis on work-life balance to avoid employee burn out.
Practically, this looks like relational managers having conversations of genuine appreciation for hard work and encouraging their employees to recharge and enrich their lives with that matter in their living and give it meaning.
4. Cheesy "Teamwork" Posters, Not Your Company Values, Hang on the Wall
If your company mission and values are nowhere to be seen, you’re making it that much easier to make them forgettable. Employees who know the value and the mission of the company – and make a personal connection to them – are dedicated to accomplishing the goal. But how do you help foster this personal connection?
You have to present your mission in terms of the big picture. For Google, it’s organizing the world’s information. For Facebook, it’s about making the world more open and connected. What’s yours?
By identifying your mission and values in these terms, it empowers employees to have a voice and a meaningful impact on the company – and it’s not just another job.
5. Social Interaction Only Happens on the Way to the Bathroom
Humans are social beings, and we crave relationships. Some want it more than others, but in general, people thrive when we find a sense of belonging.
If a trip to the break room or restroom is the only venue social interaction is happening between employees, it’s time to be more intentional. Over a lifetime, workers spend an average of 90,000 hours on the job. That’s a lot of time! We might enjoy it a little more if we also enjoyed the people we work with.
Create opportunities for employees to connect outside of work, including after-hour functions like happy hour, team-based wellness challenges, or quarterly employee appreciation outings/events. These settings help employees connect on a personal level and strengthen camaraderie.
Do most things on this list describe your company? Don’t be discouraged. Great company culture starts with an intentional plan, identifying a collaborative team to carry the vision, and taking it one day at a time.
Find what works for your industry, location, company size, and the resource you have available to invest in culture. The key is to create value and live out a common philosophy around employee engagement.
You have a great opportunity (and responsibility) to make things different. Start addressing these five signs and you’re well on your way toward defining (or revitalizing) the culture of your company.
What is your company's philosophy on company culture? Let us know in the comments below!Photo credit: Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership / Foter.com / CC BY