Webinar: How to Build a Great Workplace Culture

This session was presented on June 16, 2022

Presentation Slides


The culture of your organization determines the rules you live by, the practices you implement, the ways you innovate, the people you hire, and the direction you take your company. In short, whether you’ll be successful and how successful you can be.

In this webinar, we’ll cover everything from identifying and evaluating the culture you have, to determining what culture works best given your industry and growth, to the steps you can take to make your workplace awesome.

Webinar Transcript:

Sarah: All right. Welcome everyone. I’ll give you about 10, 15 seconds before we get this started. I know people are still shuffling in. Well, virtually shuffling. My name is Sarah. I am excited to chat with you today. I’ll give it about 10 more seconds and then we’ll get started here. Welcome. [00:00:30] Welcome. Welcome. Okay. Sounds good. Well, I think I’m just going to go ahead and jump in and if anyone is late, that is totally fine. Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m really excited to welcome you to How to Build a Great Workplace Culture. My name is Sarah. I wanted to start by noting that I’m really passionate about building and developing company culture, because ultimately the people who you choose to work with and for you [00:01:00] are the people who will build your organization’s brand and tell your story. I saw this first hand having previously worked on the front lines of the human resources department at Starbucks. I’ve worked in a number of HR roles in a multi-state capacity. I’m currently seven years with my company and I’m quite happy with the culture here, I might add. Let’s go ahead and move forward.

A few quick housekeeping items before we really jump in. We will absolutely email you the recording [00:01:30] of this presentation and a copy of the slides within about 24 hours. I’ll hold a poll later on. I hope you’ll participate, so stay tuned. And then finally, please use the Q&A box for questions. I’ve got a little time set aside at the end for a brief Q&A session. Okay, cool. Let’s look at the agenda for the next 55-ish minutes. I first want to define culture and what it means in the workplace. [00:02:00] We’ll then explore how to identify your own company culture. We’ll then go over how to evaluate your existing culture and some of the right questions to ask in the process. Finally, we’ll look at five strategies for improving your current culture. And then again, I’ll leave a couple minutes at the end for any questions you may have. It’s possible I’ll run over. This always happens to me, but I will stay a few minutes after if that’s the case so we might run a couple minutes over. This is a lot [00:02:30] of ground to cover in the next hour so let’s officially get started here.
Okay. So again, let’s begin by defining culture and what it means for your workplace. As one quick note here, throughout this presentation, I’m often providing examples from onsite or in office, but you know, everything very much still applies for remote companies as well. So just because I’m giving an example of an office scenario, don’t think that’s the [00:03:00] only way that you can take the advice. Okay. Let me set a scene here. You’re attending a fun summer barbecue. The person sitting next to you isn’t someone you’ve met before, but you know, they seem perfectly nice and friendly so you get to chatting and sharing about yourselves. And before too long, you both feel you have a pretty good sense of who the other person is. You have told stories about yourselves, talked about what’s important to you, [00:03:30] and mentioned a few things you like to do.

This is how people get to know us, right? We tell them about our beliefs and values, about the things we like and like doing, about the choices we’ve made, about the way we feel. We show other people who we are by what we say and what we do. Now, if you’re anything like me, you are definitely not going to remember the names of everyone you meet at a gathering, and you’re not going to remember every detail about someone [00:04:00] else’s life. But chances are, you’re going to retain a general sense of who the people there were. Maybe it’s a little more than a vague impression. Like, oh yeah, they seem nice, or ugh, they were so snobby. But you know, something will stick with you. Now at this barbecue, when you talked about yourself, you probably also mentioned the groups and organizations you belong to. Maybe your family or your community, your employer, or maybe a team you’re on or some organization [00:04:30] you’re a part of. It’s only natural. Who we are is bound up with who others are. We define ourselves by our various relationships, our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow Americans.

No one is an island as the old saying goes. So when you belong to an organization, there is usually a reason, right? Whether it’s a business or a club, anything from a gym to a networking group, to a book [00:05:00] club, something about it appealed and you chose to associate yourself with it. You personally identified with it and you felt a sense of belonging so you joined. Or maybe you thought about joining an organization or tried one out but you ultimately decided against it because it just didn’t feel like the right fit, the place wasn’t for you. Now, what creates this sense of belonging or not belonging to an organization is the culture. Every organization has a culture [00:05:30] and every culture has three key pieces. These are the organization’s rules, traditions, and personalities. Again, what is culture? It’s the rules, traditions and personalities in an organization. What does culture do? Well, it motivates people to act, interact and relate to each other in specific ways. Let’s go ahead and dig into each of these further.

[00:06:00] First up is rules. Now every organization has rules and there are the beliefs, norms, values, and attitudes that have been organized by leadership into expectations, policies, and procedures. They tell people what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to act and interact. You typically find these rules in official documents like the employee handbook, the ops manual, and statement of corporate values. [00:06:30] Sometimes though, the rules may be unwritten. For example, assuming an employee will load their dishes in the dishwasher, or be sure not to use emojis in emails to customers. Next, rules related to safety and security are typically required instead of just encouraged. This is also true of rules relating to general business operations. Things like dress codes and time tracking. Generally, [00:07:00] some sort of discipline occurs when rules like these are violated. Now on the flip side, some rules encourage behavior rather than require it. For instance, value statements often fall into this category.

Employees are recognized and rewarded for representing these values, but they aren’t disciplined if they don’t manage to live up to them on a given day. The kind of culture that you have as an employer will depend a lot on the kinds of rules [00:07:30] you have. So if you want a culture marked by specific values, let’s say honesty and respect, you need rules that tell people that these values are important and also that motivate your employees to demonstrate them in their work. Then you also need to ensure your rules make sense based on the kind of culture you want to have. For example, if you want your culture to be friendly and fun, then you probably don’t want to bar employees from chatting [00:08:00] while they’re on the clock. On the other hand, if you want to establish a culture of strict professionalism and attentiveness to customers, then of course, minimizing chit chat is probably a good idea.

So while rules tell employees what they should do and how they should act, traditions give them the means to work together and build relationships with each other. The traditions of a workplace are its ongoing and regular practices. [00:08:30] This includes the conventions, customs, rituals, activities, and even the way the physical workspace is arranged. The traditions of a workplace might include bigger events like award ceremonies or annual retreats, but they also include mundane sorts of things, everyday meetings and communication methods. For example, when a company has meetings, it brings people together and it gives structure to their discussions. [00:09:00] When a company has a peer recognition program, it provides an opportunity for employees to give praise and appreciation. It’s through workplace traditions that people build and maintain professional relationships. And really to have an effective culture, you need traditions as much as rules, and your traditions and rules need to align. Workplace problems often crop up because traditions and [00:09:30] rules are in conflict.

A company might have a strict anti-harassment policy, which is a rule, but an ineffective method for reporting and investigating, which is a tradition. Again, when rules and traditions don’t align, the culture becomes muddled and this creates uncertainty, confusion, and distrust. Now, a further point about traditions before we move on, traditions have staying [00:10:00] power when people become personally and professionally invested in them. When a tradition ends, people feel it. Let me give you an example. Imagine that the CEO of a small company regularly attends a monthly meeting of all employees. The CEO has a tradition of beginning each meeting with an update on the overall state and direction of the company and answers employee questions. The CEO then turns [00:10:30] the meeting over to the other leaders but stays in the room in order to remain present and attentive. Now over time as the company grows and gets busier, the CEO continues to present updates at each meeting but then leaves immediately afterwards. As time goes by, the CEO stops coming to the meetings completely and delegates the updates to the other company leaders.
Now whether the CEO or the other company leaders deliver [00:11:00] the update might not seem like a big deal. After all, the information still goes out to employees and employees can still ask questions and get answers. However, something big has changed or rather something big has been lost even if the benefits outweigh it. The CEO’s tradition of attending these meetings and speaking directly to employees created a concrete way for employees to interact with the leader of their company. They could present ideas, questions, [00:11:30] and concerns directly to their CEO and do this face to face. After the change however, most of the employees only see their leader in passing if at all, and they don’t feel as connected to the top or maybe with the company as a whole. Now their interactions mostly extend to the departmental level. Fewer employee voices reach the CEO because most of them have fewer opportunities for interaction. And if they feel distant from [00:12:00] the CEO, they may be less inclined to reach out.

Engagement could go down, office politics could increase, and employees could end up with less influence over company’s strategy and operations. So the lesson here is not that the CEO was wrong to delegate. The decision might have been the right one under the circumstances. No, the lesson is that people closely identify with and relate to their organization through its traditions. [00:12:30] And this is the case because it’s through these traditions that interactions in the workplace happen and relationships between people form. So like rules, the traditions of an organization are foundational to its culture and making changes to them can have consequences. Now let’s move on to this third piece of workplace culture, the actual people who work there. [00:13:00] If you suddenly replaced everyone in a company, the company might be the same legal entity but it wouldn’t be the same place or have the same culture even if the rules, traditions, operations and strategy all stayed the same. People matter.

A lot of what accounts for the character of a workplace is really who the employees are as individuals and the free choices they make. Everyone in the workplace has their own personality, their own [00:13:30] ideas, viewpoints, attitudes, behaviors. Think of the employee who has a kind word for everyone, the manager who regularly takes their team out for coffee, or the employees who compare notes on the latest season of Stranger Things. Has anyone seen that? A culture may be rooted in core principles but it also moves and changes. Your employees will change the culture simply by being themselves, so encourage them to improve it. [00:14:00] By involving them in the development of your culture, you’ll increase their sense of belonging and engagement. To recap, culture is the interplay of rules, traditions and individual personalities in an organization. As a result, there is no one size fits all culture. The rules and traditions that work well for one company might work poorly for another. When talking about culture, people often go straight [00:14:30] to examples of companies with very casual workplaces. Maybe those that offer game rooms, lounges, even beer fridges.
But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean this would be a good culture or the right fit for everyone. I’ve seen plenty of buttoned up professional workplaces that have really vibrant cultures that are right for their company. Really no two cultures will look alike and no two cultures should look alike. [00:15:00] Now, a final point before we move on, you can tell that I really like thinking about culture in terms of rules, traditions, and personalities, and this is really because it helps us see how culture gets created. Whether you’re starting a new business or taking your current business in some sort of new direction, the process for creating culture is essentially the same. You work with rules, traditions, and personalities. If tomorrow [00:15:30] you decided to start a new business, you’d have some idea of what you wanted it to do. You’d also want it to stick to your beliefs and values, so long story short, the culture of the business would start with your personality, your beliefs, your values, your free decisions, but then you’d create rules and traditions so that the culture stays true to your principles.

And the same goes for any efforts you’d make to change the culture of an already existing organization, [00:16:00] you’d modify the rules and traditions so they better fit with the kind of culture you personally want the company to have. And you’d work to inspire employees and get their buy-in so they are all on the same page and able to work well together. I just got a question chatted in about having a common culture for a company with more than 10 locations. Again, I think this is the key piece for that, it’s just going to be the rules and traditions spread across [00:16:30] all of those locations. Again, I came from a background of Starbucks. Think of how many Starbucks exist and really the culture is pretty darn similar at anyone you go to. So just because a company is huge, it doesn’t mean that it has to be sporadic in terms of the culture. So really focusing on the rules and traditions. That said, now that we’ve gone over the definition of culture and the culture creation process in [00:17:00] general, I want you to start thinking about your own company culture.
Now, to identify your culture, you have to look at the ways people tend to act and interact in your organization. And while that’s a lot to take in and make sense of, the model of culture that we just went over can really help here. First, examine your rules and traditions and note what kind of behaviors they result in. For example, if you have a dress code, [00:17:30] what effect does it have in the workplace? How does it affect the connections among your employees and interactions between employees and customers? You may not have a mission statement or a set of core values on your wall, but people in your company do interact in clear ways. So what are those ways? Think about the beliefs, norms, attitudes, goals, conventions, and even behaviors you see at work. What are the common themes and behavioral trends? [00:18:00] If employees don’t seem to work and interact in cohesive, restructured ways, how do they function?
Now, I would encourage you to go through your current rules and traditions and ask yourself how they shape employee behavior. How do employees interact during the hiring and onboarding processes? What about when coaching or disciplining? You’ll see on the screen here some specific questions you can ask. Do people get along with [00:18:30] each other? Do they trust and respect each other? How do they communicate? Do they collaborate and share their ideas? How do people generally respond to change at your company? Do you hold activities or events throughout the year? And if the answer is yes, what’s attendance like? Do people actually enjoy them or take advantage of them? What effects do they have on the organization? What are your meetings like? Are they organized and efficient? Are they kind of a waste of time? [00:19:00] Think about your management styles you use. Maybe overly directive, coaching-based, empowering. How do your employees perceive the management style? How would you characterize people’s interactions? What three words would you use? As you go through your rules and traditions, try to come up with about five or so words that describe employee interactions. These are the characteristics of your current culture.
For example, [00:19:30] if people generally show one another respect, you probably have a culture of respect. At this point, be sure to be honest, describe the characteristics that you see, not the characteristics that you would like to see. After you’ve observed and evaluated employee interactions, keeping in mind your rules and traditions, I then recommend checking for any conflict or resistance to these rules [00:20:00] and traditions. If you’ve got defined core values, do people actually follow them? If you have established policies, do you enforce them? Do you consistently hold people accountable to your expectations? If you have fun events for employees, do they actually participate? If you have a peer recognition program, do your employees actually use it? You know, it’s possible that the culture you want isn’t the culture that you actually have. Just because you’ve established [00:20:30] rules and traditions, it doesn’t mean that they’ve had a strong effect on the way that people act and interact. Maybe employees aren’t motivated to follow the policies and procedures you set up. Or maybe there’s other reasons at play.

Maybe individual managers have their own ways of doing things that end up overruling the overall company policies. If people are interacting in conflicting ways, try to find out why. Knowing the reasons will be important when [00:21:00] you start to assess and improve your company culture. The last thing to consider when identifying your culture is the people who work in your organization. A big influence on culture is simply the employees you have and how they work and get along. I grew up watching the TV series, The Simpsons, and it’s an interesting show because the characters are easily identifiable. You’ve got Homer Simpson, [00:21:30] the central character who’s lazy. He goes with his gut quite literally. He ultimately means well. His kindhearted daughter Lisa who’s whip-smart and always striving for justice. And neighbor Ned Flanders who’s unbearably nice and a constant annoyance to Homer. So you know, these characters, who they all are affects the ways they interact. Homer is constantly trying to avoid Ned’s well-intentioned invitations. He’s always trying to get out of doing work. He’s trying to keep Lisa [00:22:00] from leading the revolution, all while seeking out his favorite beer and donuts.

Lisa is there to help bring order and harmony to the chaos and to question the status quo. You know, in a real fictional way, the city of Springfield, the setting of the show, it has a culture. If you visited Springfield, you’d notice the culture. It would influence the way you hung out and interacted with the residents there. Your workplace is also shaped [00:22:30] by the people who work there. So who are your formal and informal leaders? How are they influencing people in your workplace and in what ways? What kinds of personalities and personal values do your employees have? Do people tend to work harmoniously or do they clash? Now, spoiler alert here, identifying your culture is a long process and it may require more in-depth insight [00:23:00] than one person can manage. One option to get a more expansive and kind of closer view, you can survey your employees to get their thoughts. Another option is to set up a culture committee that’s composed of employees from various departments. Since the members would come from across the company, they’ll see things you might miss and maybe help offer a more accurate or a more complete picture of the culture and a better sense of when the culture is changing.

[00:23:30] A culture committee could also help you evaluate and improve the culture by doing things like nurturing professional relationships, encouraging team collaboration by hosting activities and events for employees to connect, hearing the ideas and concerns of other employees, and also using the committee meetings to stay informed about industry trends and best practices that build great workplaces. So for this group, you would of course want [00:24:00] people who care about the culture but you would also want those who are attentive and observant and who people trust. As you grow, your culture is going to change simply because new people will come on board and bring who they are individually to who you are organizationally. A culture committee can be a really great way for you to keep a pulse on the culture, empower your employees, and delegate some of the culture related responsibilities. [00:24:30] Once you know what your culture is, you can then start to evaluate it. Is it a good culture or a bad culture? Does it support your ongoing success or does it stop you from reaching your goals?

Now, the specifics of a good culture do vary from company to company, but there are a few general qualities of a good culture that you should aim for whatever your industry, mission and vision. [00:25:00] A good culture should be well-defined and understood. It should be embraced by the people in your company. It should be in alignment with your mission and vision. It should be beneficial to the long term success of the company and it should be stable through times of change and growth. Let’s go ahead and look at each of these qualities in more detail now. If you ask [00:25:30] your employees to talk about your company culture, would they know what to say? Would they have similar answers? Could they point to a mission or a vision statement? Maybe a set of core values and shared beliefs. What about company policies and procedures? So in short, do they know how people are expected to behave and interact in the workplace? Do they know the rules? You won’t have much control over your culture if you don’t clearly define it.

[00:26:00] I mean, you don’t need to write down every expectation, but you know, they should be evident in some way. That said, written statements really do help, and so does adding them to your company handbook. They really just make it easier to communicate those expectations and hold everyone accountable to them. Every once in a while, it’s also good to take time to discuss your culture. Maybe in a quarterly meeting or an annual retreat. That way, everyone understands it and knows [00:26:30] how they can play a role in cultivating and developing it. By discussing the culture that you have and the culture you want, you can work through any misunderstandings or ambiguities. That said, you don’t necessarily need a separate culture statement to go along with your mission and values since culture is so multifaceted and complex. Really, every rule you have affects it. Even so, the idea of your desired [00:27:00] culture should be apparent in written statements about your company, whether they’re the mission, the vision, the core values, marketing materials, or internal handbooks.

Now let’s take a moment to talk about core values. You know, sometimes these can be cheesy sentiments that everyone ignores, but they can also be a powerful force in your organization. In fact, defining your core values can be a [00:27:30] really great first step in defining your culture and an inspiring one too. I mean, think of all the great motivational speeches you’ve seen in movies. What do they have in common? An appeal to a core value. Maybe it’s freedom or courage or solidarity. Whatever the value, it’s something that motivates the characters and it resonates with the audience. Watching the movie, you feel energized and inspired. And if the speech is especially [00:28:00] good one, the core value sticks with you after the movie is over. When setting core values for your company, don’t just think about motivating your people today, choose values that will resonate with them over the life of your organization. Pick those that will help keep your company on the right path as it grows and develops.

If you’ve defined your culture and clearly communicated it to employees, [00:28:30] the next question to ask is whether your culture is actually embraced. It’s important that the people who work for you believe in the purpose of the company and the ways you set out to achieve it. A sales company that prides itself on honesty and being helpful doesn’t want salespeople who lie about the products and manipulate customers. It wants professionals who value truth and integrity. When you look at your defined culture and evaluate how much it’s internalized [00:29:00] by employees, you may find that not everyone buys into it. And while that’s actually quite normal, don’t just settle for indifference. Really make it a point to emphasize that the culture you’ve defined is important to you. To start, the leaders in your organization have to live the culture themselves. Interact with employees the way you want them to interact with you. Remember though that culture isn’t set in stone, it’s always developing and adjusting since [00:29:30] culture is lived and it grows out of the way people in an organization think, feel, and act.

Each new person you bring in will contribute something new to the culture, new habits, new perspectives, new ideas. So encourage employees to make the culture their own and encourage their ideas for improvement. If your culture is clearly defined and most of your employees embrace it, [00:30:00] what next? Make sure your culture is aligned with the good of your organization. Your company has a purpose. Does your culture help further the purpose or maybe does it unknowingly sabotage it? Let’s say as a company you encourage employees to be innovative, but you also don’t put up with mistakes. What would happen? I mean, you would most likely stifle innovation. Employees would avoid sharing new ideas since they’d be worried they might make a mistake. [00:30:30] When identifying and assessing the aspects of culture in your company, make sure they all work together and don’t undercut each other. Also, take a good look at the cultures of each department and each team. These smaller groups will have their own ways of interacting and doing things and that’s absolutely okay, but they shouldn’t fundamentally conflict with the larger organizational culture.
If your overall [00:31:00] culture is not aligned with your mission and vision, or if the cultures of some departments don’t match the culture of others, this can create conflict and disorder. People aren’t united behind your company’s purpose. They aren’t all following the rules, and that can create resentment and frustration. It can hurt morale and stifle productivity. A culture that is not aligned with the good of the organization is like a company-wide bad habit. It undermines all the good [00:31:30] work you do. The next question to ask when evaluating your culture is whether it’s conducive to the organization’s success. Your core values and practices might all be in alignment, but what if the values themselves or the mission or vision aren’t good for long term sustainability? There’s a possibility that the core values you defined aren’t actually the best ones for you [00:32:00] to have. Maybe your current mission and vision won’t take you as far as others could. To take some easy examples, if you overlook harassment or bullying, or if you always ignore your legal obligations, you run the risk of costly lawsuits and fines.

A culture of trust however, lowers your risk for employment claims. Honest mistakes happen, but if employees know and like and trust you, they’ll usually be [00:32:30] willing to work with you on solving problems. Another example, let’s say your employees embrace your defined culture. Well, then you’ve got that covered, right? Not necessarily. An important question to ask is why employees embrace the culture? Do they follow it because they believe in it or do they just go with it out of fear for their jobs? Do they follow the established culture because they have to or because they want to? Analyze your [00:33:00] successes and failures and ask yourself why each happened. Were there rules and traditions that contributed to those failures and successes? What were they? Why do you think they resulted in success or failure? Our final question today is around whether your culture is stable. Your culture is going to change as people come and go. New hires will bring [00:33:30] their own personalities and priorities to your workplace. And people who have helped shape your culture will leave for other opportunities, so expect change.

That said, you should also aim to manage that change. You want your culture to have stability and keep you grounded as the company grows. If your culture is largely the result of the personalities in your company, then you’ll have major cultural shifts as your workforce changes. Instead, if your culture [00:34:00] is rooted in time-tested rules and traditions, then your culture will continue on over time and that’s really what you want. Culture affects your operations and strategy. It tells people how they should interact with each other and clients. If your culture is unstable, your operations and strategy are going to be too. Part of keeping your culture stable is to recruit and hire people who will contribute and not detract from your culture. [00:34:30] You know, I do say contribute rather than fit with the culture because you don’t just want yes people who will keep the culture what it is. You don’t want cookie cutter employees. Really, you want people who will make the culture better while keeping it true to its core principles.

Hiring employees who are likely to contribute to your culture isn’t easy, but here are a few strategies you can use. First, [00:35:00] explain your company rules and traditions. The interview process isn’t just about the applicants, it’s also about you and your organization. When discussing the requirements of the job, make sure you tell applicants about your company, where it’s been, where it’s going. Be upfront and concrete about what your company values are, how your company follows them and how you expect every employee to exemplify those values. Mention the behaviors and habits you want to see in an employee. [00:35:30] Ask applicants why they might want to work in your specific culture and feel free to ask them for particulars. Then bring employees from different departments into the interview sessions. Your employees have their own ways of participating in and contributing to the company culture, so take advantage of these differences by inviting those in a variety of departments to participate in the interviews.

The more diverse your interviewers, the more likely you’ll be able to spot a red flag before extending [00:36:00] a job offer. Finally, ask about specific behaviors. When questioning candidates and the references, ask about their preferred way of doing things, not just what they do, but also how they do it. Have applicants name the values that matter most to them and what they did in their previous jobs to live those values. Ask about large, long term projects and small day-to-day operations. You can often tell a lot about an applicant’s [00:36:30] character by their disposition towards the menial but necessary tasks of an organization. Let’s break this up with a poll. I’m going to go ahead and launch that. Give ourselves a little break here. So tell me, do you feel like you’ve got a strong sense of your current company culture? Kind of have the yes, maybe no, or yes, sort of no. Let’s [00:37:00] see. I’ve got 20% of you that have participated.
I’ll give you a few more seconds to reply here. Super curious to see. Another few seconds. I’m actually going to grab a sip of water. We’re up to 60% of you. That’s great. I’ll give you another few seconds. All right. I’m going to go ahead and close the poll in five, [00:37:30] four, three, two, and one. Ending it now. Got up to 70%. Let’s see. Interesting. Yeah, I guess that doesn’t surprise me. It looks like certainly over half of you are feeling like you’ve got a general sense. You’re going to want to do more work, which I love because this is the perfect webinar to attend for that. I also love that about 25% of you, a quarter of you have feel like you have a very strong sense of your culture already. And then yeah, 13%, you’ve [00:38:00] got a long ways to go. But again, this is the perfect webinar to help you think about that. All right, moving right along here. We have come to the last and longest section of this training. It’s going to be about improving your culture.

Let’s look at five strategies for improving your culture. Whatever your business or purpose or industry, these strategies are [00:38:30] universal, meaning that every company should pursue them. We’re going to talk about establishing trust, building community to weather the storms, working to help your employees live well and do well, striving for diversity, and also developing effective teams. The first strategy is to establish trust in your workplace, particularly between management and employees. [00:39:00] Institute says that trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces. Culture, as we’ve said, is relational and relationships require trust. When trust is lost, relationships deteriorate and culture crumbles. Here’s the thing about trust, in its truest sense, it can only exist between people. We might rely on machines to keep information secure, [00:39:30] but we don’t trust them with our secrets.

Trust is personal. And I don’t say this to sound all warm and fuzzy, it’s actually the opposite. The personal nature of trust makes the job more difficult and more daunting. This is because business culture is typically impersonal. We generally recommend that managers not befriend their employees. Friendship can complicate professional relationships and make business decisions like demotion or a termination a lot more [00:40:00] difficult. It can also create the appearance of favoritism. Now at the same time, treating people as temporarily useful but ultimately dispensable tools is of course no way to build trust. Employees aren’t likely to trust their employer if circumstances compel them to have one foot out the door, or if they don’t believe that their employer cares about their wellbeing and their personal success. Employers are less likely to trust their employees when their [00:40:30] employees may be looking for work elsewhere or may not 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. Long story short, trust is essential to build a great culture, but distrust often rules in the business world. Employers and employees frequently keep each other at a distance. They don’t form the personal [00:41:00] connections that enable trust to grow. After sounding a little like a Debbie Downer, is building trust and a great culture a hopeless task? Of course not. The remaining four strategies I’ll talk about in a minute all help establish and encourage trusting relationships in the workplace. But before we get to those, let’s look at a few basic things you can do to create a foundation of trust. First, when communicating [00:41:30] with employees, be honest and open. Really, just say what you mean and mean what you say. Next, don’t spin the truth and certainly don’t lie. Employees talk to each other and they’ll find out if things aren’t as you say. For example, if you have to terminate a well-liked employee, you don’t want to give other employees an inaccurate reason for the dismissal.

Don’t keep employees guessing about how they’re doing. Good performers [00:42:00] should know that you know they’re doing well, and poor performers should know well before an annual performance review that their work has been subpar. So offer praise and address problems right away. Next, 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 actually address the behavior and put a stop [00:42:30] to it. And then finally, trust your employees. Trust is reciprocal. If you want trust, you have to show trust. Invest in them. Yes, they may take their training and experience to another company someday, but so what? You’re way better off with trained employees than untrained ones. If an employee is untrustworthy, they probably shouldn’t be working for you anyway.

[00:43:00] Our second strategy is to build community. 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 everyone 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 thorns [00:43:30] of business life. Every company goes through challenging times. When times are tough, you want your people to stick with you. If employees feel connected to a community within their organization and the community is committed to the goals of the organization, they have a reason to stay. It’s not just a job, but a shared endeavor that means something to them. We, human beings are social creatures. We form relationships and find meaning in them. Building community can help employees [00:44:00] find meaning in their work. It helps companies endure. Strong communities can last for decades, centuries, even thousands of years.

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 [00:44:30] 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 they see how they can contribute to the overall mission, they will be much more personally invested. With a shared sense of purpose, you can implement company policies and practices that make cultural sense. Let’s say one of [00:45:00] 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 all of your policies asking yourself how each of them represents one or more of your values. If some policies don’t fit, maybe it’s time to get rid of them or find [00:45:30] a way to bring them in line with your culture. When the rules, traditions, and operations of your organization fit with its mission, they become a strong and flexible framework in which relationships can form, develop and flourish. When these relationships work towards a common purpose, then you have a strong community, diverse employees committed to the company’s mission and a willingness to accomplish great things together. [00:46:00] Even if you haven’t yet been attempting to build a sense of community among your employees, your workplace is a social place and it functions like one. And by this, I mean that when you staffed your company, you had a structure in mind. But you didn’t hire roles and responsibilities, you hired individuals with unique personalities. These individuals have formed or avoided relationships beyond the way their positions were intended to interact.

In every office, the personal [00:46:30] is fused with the professional. There’s no getting around it. Office relationships are going to form, some inclusive and some exclusive. Some employees will isolate themselves as best they can. These dynamics can serve the interests of your company or work against them. They can build a healthy culture or an unhealthy one so you have a choice. You can stand back and allow these personal dynamics to develop and go wherever they will, whatever the cost, [00:47:00] or you can step up and encourage your employees to come together behind a common purpose and a shared set of values. The third strategy for improving your culture is to help your employees live well and do well. The whole reason we have a society at all is to promote and secure human flourishing. People work to support themselves, and they help themselves by helping others. That’s what [00:47:30] this whole society thing is supposed to be about.

Now in the same vein, the workplace can also contribute to human flourishing by empowering the people who work there to seek their full potential. A workplace can be a place where people learn and master new skills, gain valuable life experience, form meaningful relationships, connect with the wider community, find meaning in their work, and contribute to the common good. Is your workplace one where people happily help each other? [00:48:00] If not, change your expectations and hold people accountable to them. Helping your employees live well and do well also ups their engagement and that affects your bottom line and your competitive advantage. Sadly, most employees are not engaged at work, 70% according to Gallup. And this isn’t some new trend. The combined number of unengaged and actively disengaged [00:48:30] employees remains high from year to year. Poor engagement results in less productivity, less creativity, higher absenteeism, higher turnover. Employee engagement is basically a measure of your employee’s commitment to their work and the success of your organization. Think of it as their work ethic within your company.
Fortunately, low engagement is not inevitable. Some companies have great employee engagement, their employees consciously and consistently work [00:49:00] for the good of their organization. They’re committed, innovative, and driven to help their coworkers and organization thrive. Now, of course you can’t force an employee to be engaged. Engagement is ultimately their choice, but you can create working conditions that inspire and empower employees to make that choice. What you want is an engaging culture, so one that prompts and rewards engagement. The cost of unengaged and [00:49:30] disengaged employees is a big reason why executives should take culture seriously. When employees don’t like their workplace, they’re less inclined to work hard and do their best. They’re less efficient and productive, and they can end up taking a lot of management’s time. Turnover is costly too, more so than you might think.

According to new benchmarking data by the Society for Human Resource Management or SHRM, according to them, the average cost per hire this [00:50:00] year is $4,700. However, turnover costs can vary depending on the length of time it takes to fill the role, the importance of the position to the employer and the employer’s industry. As you can see on the screen here, there are a few costs you should keep in mind. Recruiting and hiring can include expenses for advertising the open position, background checks, pre-employment testing. Another cost is related to onboarding. For this, we have the cost of orientation and [00:50:30] training materials, as well as management’s time to provide training and additional supervision to a new employee. Consider the burden on other employees. Having an empty seat means others have to pick up the slack. They may have to cover while you’re spending time looking for a candidate to hire. And even once the new employee is hired, it of course takes time to train new people. Then there’s productivity loss.

Let’s face it. Even when everyone’s pitching in and working [00:51:00] extra time, productivity will drop. Again, after the hire, it takes time for the replacement to reach the former employee’s level of productivity. Another cost is around mistakes. Errors are likely to increase when employees are covering the duties of their former coworker. Even when the new hire is learning to do the job. This is just a cost of doing business. And then finally, disengagement. Employee engagement is likely to be low when turnover is high. And if a terminated [00:51:30] employee was well-liked, morale might tank for a bit after the termination. Now some turnover is inevitable and sometimes it can be positive. But the last thing you want is your top performers looking for jobs elsewhere because they’re unhappy with their working environment. That said, you can reduce turnover proactively by creating that culture of engagement, that saves you money, it keeps employees happy, and it gives you an edge over the competition.

[00:52:00] Here’s how you create it. Define the specific purpose of your organization. What do you do? What’s your style? How are you different from the competition? Commit to the success of your people. If you want employees to work for your organization’s success, you have to work for theirs. Coach them, train them, help them develop their skills and abilities. They’ll see that you care about their present and future success and they’ll know that you trust them. Recognize employees who go above and [00:52:30] beyond. In a culture of engagement, just getting the job done isn’t enough, encourage extra effort by rewarding it. Then encourage criticism, feedback and innovation. Every company can use improvement. Solicit your employees ideas, be open to their suggestions. By giving your employees a voice in the company’s operations, strategy and culture, you provide them with a sense of ownership. Finally, allow for a healthy work-life balance. Your employees [00:53:00] of course have other commitments outside the office. Give them the time to see those things and have a life outside of work. So through this, you’ll get more from them when they’re actually on the job.

As I mentioned earlier, when you’re recruiting or hiring, you should look for people who will contribute to your culture and not just fit with it. Cultural fit is important in the sense that you don’t want people who will sabotage your culture, but every culture could be better [00:53:30] because workplace interactions could always be better. Your ideal candidates will be those who are into the core principles of your culture, but also bring their own backgrounds and perspectives and ideas in the workplace. Strive for diversity. A diverse and inclusive company is also a more welcoming place for people to work and spend a decent portion of their lives. Okay, we are almost done here. I may run up against the hour. [00:54:00] I’ve got a couple slides left. If you have to leave at the top of the hour, we will be emailing you a copy of the slides and this recording so you could always return to it. Okay. If you’ve established trust, built community, helped your employees do well, strived for diversity, then you’ve laid the groundwork for this final strategy, helping everyone work well together by developing effective teams.

Now, at some point in your career, you’ve probably participated in team building exercises [00:54:30] that made you cringe. Maybe they were useless group activities that no one was a fan of. Team building activities don’t have to be this way. They really can improve a team’s productivity and efficiency. The key here is to approach team building strategically. To do that, you have to know what it means to build a team and how to measure a team’s performance. It would be nice if building an efficient and productive team required no more than hiring skilled workers with agreeable personalities. [00:55:00] Unfortunately, teams don’t work like that. Any successful relationship, team relationships take thought, effort and compromise. Everyone has their own manner of doing things, their own values, their own strengths and weaknesses. If these differences are not acknowledged and addressed, conflict and frustration can ensue.

The purpose of team building is to get the people on a team to work well together, and more specifically, [00:55:30] team building teaches employees on a team about each other so that their differences serve as a foundation for collaboration instead of conflict. When it comes to team building activities, it’s fine to have social events without much formality or structure, and it can be helpful for team building just because people can let their guard down and get to know their coworkers on a more personal level. That said, structured activities will get you closer to your goal. When you plan a team building activity, [00:56:00] first take note of who the people are on the team. You’ll want them engaged in a task that brings out their individual work preferences, habits, values, and strengths. Teams with money to spend might choose to participate in some professionally organized game where their behaviors are observed, but you don’t need expensive elaborate setups to assess your team in action. You could have them design a fun informational poster about their team.
Maybe discuss [00:56:30] what superpower would be most beneficial for their job. Plan a 10 minute tour of your workspace or collectively role play their response to an upset customer. The important point here is the activities shouldn’t be part of their work. Employees who are working need to focus on getting the work done and doing it well, not on getting to know each other. Work has its own purpose. When employees are engrossed in a team building task, pay attention to the behavior of each person. [00:57:00] What differences are there? Has someone tried to do all the work themselves? Is anyone keeping a close eye on the time remaining to complete the task? Is someone delegating? Is anyone raising concerns about what’s been proposed or what’s been done? Then when this task is done, you’ll all have seen the different ways that each person behaved. It’s now time to chat about those differences. Ask each team member to explain why they did what they did. Then ask them what they learned about those around [00:57:30] them. Finally, have them discuss ways in which their differences could be beneficial or harmful to their work as a team.

Now, after you’ve talked through these behaviors and your team members get each other a little more, it may be time to make some changes based on what you’ve learned. Let’s say you had someone who took it upon themselves to monitor the team’s progress with a constant eye on the clock. They may have underutilized project management skills. Maybe they would be good at keeping the team on track [00:58:00] with various projects. Or suppose a member of your team displayed creative thinking and problem solving skills you had no idea existed, maybe because their job duties don’t typically require that. Think about how those could be used within the team. What workflows make the most sense given everyone’s strengths and weaknesses? What conflicts exist on the team and how could they be resolved? The best team building though doesn’t come from on a high. If you want to enforce new [00:58:30] workflows that require them to be more collaborative and the members of the team don’t want to collaborate more, you’ll likely get pushed back. It’s likely going to make the team function more poorly. So forced to work together more, they’re more likely to argue about the way they want to do things.

Before team building efforts can be successful, those on the team might want those efforts to be successful or they must want those efforts to be successful. They need to be willing to disagree and debate in good faith, compromise [00:59:00] when needed, and balance out each other’s skills. A proven way to engage employees in team building, put them in charge of it, let them plan their team building activities and decide how best to incorporate what they learn into their workflows. Give them the freedom to be creative and build each other up. Trust them and encourage them to trust each other. After all, team building has to be a team effort. All right, final slide you all. I know I am creeping to the top of the [00:59:30] hour. Ultimately, any team building effort requires time and resources. In other words, you’re paying for it. That said, you should be able to determine whether those efforts were worth the cost. A vague feeling of improvement is not enough, especially when the fruits of team building can be measured. Before, during, and after team building activities, make sure you’re recording and analyzing metrics that pertain to team efficiency and productivity. [01:00:00] Did the team meet its goals?

Look at the key performance indicators that make sense for your team. Production, morale, and retention are good figures to examine. Definitely measure whether the team has been able to get more work done in less time. Before you get started, remember that you’re not just building any team but the team that you have. Your goal is to help the people on this team understand each other better so they’ll be better able to collaborate. Start by thinking about [01:00:30] what you already know about your team and brainstorming activities that will require their collaboration, communication, and compromise. When they do these activities, observe their behavior and discuss it with them afterwards. If you learn anything that could be improved about the team’s workflow, consider giving it a try and then pay attention to the team’s performance metrics in the weeks that follow. When you’ve figured out the best team building activities for your people, make it a tradition.

[01:01:00] As you continue to think about your own culture, again, just remember the three key pieces are the rules, traditions, and personalities within your workplace. I am so sorry, I ran over by a minute. I know I’m just coming into Q&A now. If you have to go, again, we will email a copy of this recording and a PDF of the slides out tomorrow. But if you’re able to stick with me, I am happy to answer a few questions here. Let me just go ahead and take a look. We got quite a few. I certainly won’t be able [01:01:30] to get through them all, but give me one moment here. Okay. I got one here. “Can you talk a little more about how to balance employee input with leadership preference in regards to culture creation?” Yeah. That’s a great question. Asking for and then putting employee [01:02:00] ideas into action, that can be a really great way to leverage their skills and expertise. Regularly involving them can really help inspire loyalty and actually increase engagement.

That said, at the end of the day, responsibility for the company does rest with the leadership team. They’re the ones that are making the big decisions. Those decisions may not always match the wishes of your employees. [01:02:30] Like if company leaders have to make an unpopular decision, especially about something that maybe they surveyed employees on, I would absolutely recommend that they explain the final decision and why it was made. Ultimately, that transparency and that honesty, it may not make employees happy but it shows that the leaders respect them, and hopefully that will still bridge that trust gap if there is one. [01:03:00] This seems slightly tied. I like this. Someone’s asking if I have any thoughts on what to do for culture improvement if you’re not able to get C-suite buy-in. I feel like I’ve seen a few questions kind of in that vein. Yeah, absolutely. You know, sometimes maybe the HR person in a company just isn’t able to convince the executive team to spend the time and resources to develop the culture to [01:03:30] focus on that piece.
And then a lot of cases, I honestly suspect that the C-suite doesn’t want to devote energy to culture because they probably see culture as something separate from operations and strategy. You know, culture may be important, but it’s not urgent so it just kind of stays on the back burner or I guess off the stove top altogether. That said, I really believe that this mentality misunderstands culture. You know, culture is not something separate [01:04:00] from operations and strategy. I know I beat this into the ground, but culture is that interplay of the rules, traditions, and personalities of a company. And what culture does is establish that standard for how people act and relate to each other. So culture helps determine the manner in which people work together to accomplish the company’s mission. The culture shapes and gives color to the operations and strategy. The C-suite [01:04:30] should really be attentive to culture because culture is fundamental to the day-to-day life of the company. I mean, also its growth and development. I would say here, the good news is that improving culture doesn’t require explicitly talking about culture.

You can actually improve culture by focusing on operations and strategy through improving your company’s operational and strategic rules and traditions. [01:05:00] So maybe start by examining your rules and traditions in light of all of the stuff we went over today, the criteria, and assess their effect on efficiency and productivity. I guess, long story short, I would say make the case for cultural improvement using terms and principles that are important to your executives, to the C-suite. I’m going to go ahead and see if I can make it through one more [01:05:30] question here. Let’s see. Got to pick between two. Someone says, “We want to terminate an employee who doesn’t fit with our culture. Can we do this? Do you foresee any issues?” This is a complicated one. I would say first things first, check your policies and any sort of correspondence. Maybe like an offer letter that’s been given to the employee, just to make sure that you’ve established [01:06:00] an at-will employment relationship. Most employers state that employment is at-will, meaning an employee can be terminated at any time with or without notice and with or without cause for any reason not prohibited by law.
If an at-will employment relationship exists, you can terminate the employee for not fitting in with your culture, but there are certainly things to consider beforehand, and I say that with a big exclamation point. Terminated employees sometimes [01:06:30] challenge their employer’s decision to terminate them and can allege discrimination or other unlawful employment practices. Your best defense is going to be able to prove or provide or prove documented reasons for a termination and demonstrate good faith efforts on your end to help the employee improve before a termination. So simply saying that an employee doesn’t fit with your culture doesn’t provide much information or do anything to counter [01:07:00] a claim that a termination was due to discrimination or some other unlawful reason, which is huge. So I would just say, think about what you mean when you say the employee doesn’t fit with your culture.

If your expectations are clearly established and you can point to specific behaviors of the employee that didn’t meet those expectations, you can build a solid case for termination. You should also be able to show that you gave the employee a chance [01:07:30] to improve and that you would terminate any employee under the same circumstances. In other words, you should be able to demonstrate whether an employee fits with your culture and show that the consequences for not fitting any of the culture are same for everyone. So documentation is key. If you haven’t done these things, if you just feel like someone is a thorn in your side, I would not recommend starting with termination. There’s a lot of risk with that. [01:08:00] Especially with culture, which I feel like can be kind of a vaguely, it can be a bit of a dangerous word if you’re just terminating someone based on cultural fit. I would definitely say, I see where you’re going with that.
I certainly understand and have been there, but I would certainly move cautiously and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. And on that bummer of a note, I have run eight minutes over. I am so sorry. [01:08:30] I hope you got some great stuff out of this. I love talking about culture and I certainly hope this has inspired you to focus on it more. Thank you so much. As a final reminder, we’ll email you a PDF of the slides and a recording in about 24 hours. Have a great rest of your day.


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