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Fixing the Company Culture: One Person at a Time

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A secretary was reprimanded because she read during lunch rather than socializing with the other secretaries. An executive called a meeting of the entire office to yell at them for sending too many emails. An engineer who warned management about defects in a product was assigned to mindless desk work until he left the company.

These may sound like the individual acts of clueless employees and leaders but they reach deeper into the entire culture. This culture suppresses the interests of individual employees, treats adults like children, and sacrifices customer welfare to expediency.

The best company culture is marked by a commitment to quality, a secure reputation, low turnover, high productivity, innovation, loyal customers, and thriving, engaged employees.

Do You and Your Team Want the Same Things?

A 2020 study of more than 20,000 employees found that an increased focus on company culture created improvements in just one year in the employees’ sense of purpose and appreciation (up 5% each), sense of opportunity and success (up 7% each), and sense of leadership (up 4%). The net promoter score (the likelihood that employees would recommend their company to others) rose from minus 8% to plus 5%.

And yet, the study found, employees are still willing to leave their current company, even if the new company offers the exact same pay and benefits. The biggest driver is not money but burnout and stress. In addition, only 66% of employees feel that the company cares; 84% believe the culture could be improved; and only 42% consider their daily experience at work to be positive.

What Does a Great Culture Look Like?

To evaluate your company culture, ask the following questions:

  1. Do you and the company value the customer’s experience more highly than the employee’s experience? Are you willing, for example, to overwork and burn out employees in order to meet customer demand?
  2. Are you and the company relying on more and bigger technology, programs, systems, and blow-out celebrations to improve the culture while neglecting the daily human element, such as a simple thank you?
  3. Do you and your company value a traditional leadership style—leaders who cling to hierarchy, give annual feedback, set up inflexible schedules and policies, and make unilateral decisions? Do you and your company value, instead, a leader who builds connections, actively listens, is comfortable with flexibility, and collaborates with the team?

A great culture remembers and cultivates the humanity of employees every day. The era of top-down bureaucracy has passed along with mimeographs and red pencils.

How Can You Build a Great Culture?

One of the first steps in building a great culture is self-awareness of your own needs. If you yourself are suffering burnout and lack purpose in your work, if you are unhappy in your work or personal life, and if you lack confidence and optimism, then how can you possibly build a positive, balanced culture?

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that employers are actually more trusted now than governments or the media: this reflects a worldwide tendency to trust more in direct contacts where there is still some sense of control by both parties. More than 71% of employees look to their company and its leaders—rather than the government and media initiatives—to meet challenges and give them accurate information.

In a great company culture, leaders:

  • Show employees the connection between their work and the customer’s experience.
  • Understand, acknowledge, and take into account the daily stresses, strains, and accomplishments of their team.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to grow through training, delegation, new experiences, or mentorship.
  • Care about the physical and mental well-being of their team, with opportunities for flexible working and improved family leave policies.
  • Create an overall culture that has a clear vision of contributing to the world and that values inclusivity, flexibility, individual growth, relationship building with employees as well as customers, and daily—not merely once-a-year—appreciation.

Key Takeaways

Company culture involves everyone feeling comfortable and happy in their role. Great culture can be achieved through engagement, positive leadership, and understanding.

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