- Creating a strong company culture isn’t the responsibility of a few individuals or a single department. Everyone — from the CEO to a newly-hired employee — plays a role in a company’s culture.
- Unlearning assumptions can be hard, but it’s a key part of setting the standards for your company’s workplace culture.
- Now is the best time to ensure your company’s culture will provide a strong foundation for team communication and innovation.
Strong business culture is an untapped resource that many companies don’t fully consider when thinking about how to improve the business overall.
When a company has a culture that reflects its core values, it is much more likely that overall productivity and company innovation will increase. You can support these goals by allowing employees to be passionate about the work they do and ensuring they feel comfortable discussing any problems that might arise.
“Company culture is the energy field that’s being generated by all the rituals and taboos you have and by what you give status and importance to,” Carol Sanford, Executive Producer at the Regenerative Business Summit, says on an episode of the BOLD Business Podcast. “It is not directly about the business. It is the field in which the business takes place.”
Steve Simpson is the Director at Keystone Management Services, a management consulting group that helps organizations improve their workplace culture. He came up with the idea of “Unwritten Ground Rules” (UGRs) — which is a framework for improving workplace culture. UGRs are people’s perceptions of the way a company works: the unspoken negative or positive habits that leadership and employees can fall into, impacting its culture and the way people go about their jobs.
“We need an engaging, productive and positive workplace culture — not only to keep our people but also to be a magnet that attracts people,” Steve says.
Anthony Minessale, Founder and CEO of SignalWire, says that trust is a foundational part of establishing a strong business culture. If you trust yourself and your colleagues to make the right decisions, you’ll be able to challenge your assumptions and shake up a culture for the better.
“Trust is about being able to stay in your purview and work together with others,” he says.
In order to become an innovative company that can meet the opportunities and challenges the future brings, a business has to have ground rules that set everyone up for success.
5 Tips for Developing a Strong Business Culture
On this episode of the BOLD Business Podcast, industry leaders shared their thoughts about the importance of business culture, and how you can improve yours.
1. Know That Everyone Contributes to Business Culture
While company leaders have to take a good chunk of responsibility for their contribution to business culture, that shouldn’t come at the expense of asking every employee in the company to consider their own contributions too.
“There’s no doubt that leaders are primary players in creating the culture,” Steve says. “But we can have a good leader with an ordinary culture or an ordinary leader with a good culture. Why? Because of the employees.”
If a company stops thinking of its employees as victims of the leadership’s whims, it will empower these employees to think of themselves as agents of cultural change.
“We need shared ownership for the culture. When organizations become larger, there is a real risk that employees take a cop-out position,” Steve says. “But every single one of us contributes to the prevailing Unwritten Ground Rules.”
Even a little bit of gossip around the water cooler can contribute to a negative office culture, which has a big impact on the rest of the company. If everyone in an organization can take stock of their attitudes and assumptions, it can create an important shift in a business’s overall culture.
2. Encourage Honest Dialogue
Once employees know that their behaviors and thought patterns are important to company culture, it’s important that they’re actually allowed and encouraged to share their thoughts and insights with the leadership team.
Anthony says this starts with employees feeling free to share feedback about the way a company is running — while they’re still actually working there.
“When people leave a company, you get the harshest feedback that helps you realize things about the business because they don’t care what anyone thinks of them anymore. They’re the most honest they would ever be,” Anthony says.
“But we want to give people a chance to do that exit interview without actually having to quit.”
This opportunity for real dialogue between team members and company leadership could happen by employing one-on-one meetings on a biannual basis, or any schedule or method that seems right for your team. But whatever the way, make sure feedback is encouraged.
3. Unlearn Your Assumptions
One of the most important ways to ensure that a business’ culture can thrive is by working to unlearn the assumptions and attitudes everyone carries with them.
This isn’t always easy, but throwing away outdated thought patterns is crucial to overcoming the obstacles preventing your company from achieving a great culture.
Carol is passionate about teaching people how to unlearn the patterns that hold them back, and she provides a lot of advice on how to identify the assumptions you carry and work to unlearn them.
“The unlearning part is mostly disrupting mental models that we got from somebody else. We’re disrupting the certainty and disrupting how we see ourselves in our role as we work,” Carol says. “It’s a very big unlearning. But it’s also great fun because it breaks all the shackles.”
Steve says that people at a company can be stuck in assumed UGRs — the things that maybe were true about how the company worked in the past, but they don’t always have to be the case now.
“Maybe five years ago, thinking that the bosses didn’t care about us was a legitimate UGR. But now, all the bosses have changed, and there are new people in leadership positions,” Steve says.
“The UGRs can lock-in; they can become legacies no matter who sits in the chair. But we can change perceptions and force people to consciously think about this stuff, and we have to consider whether behaviors need to change as well.”
4. Think Aspirationally About Your Business
One of the greatest ways to look at work culture is through the lens of the company’s aspirations and core values.
“What’s the culture we’re fighting for? What are the key cultural attributes we need in place for us to truly be successful?” Steve asks. “Our aspirational culture and our values need to be reframed as foundational — [something] upon which everything else sits.”
“We might have support and care as part of our aspirational culture. If that’s a driving force, we all have to be tuned into that and hold each other to account if we don’t step up when support is required. Or when you look after your own interests at the expense of the team’s interests. It all comes back to the aspirational culture that we need to fight for.”
Carol says a company and its employees can see themselves as part of a legacy that was created by its founders.
“What we’re doing is building on one another. We’re not putting our ego stamp on the legacy,” she says. “I am part of a lineage. I want to be a better part of the lineage.”
5. Learn From the Pandemic’s Impact on Culture
The business culture was forever shifted when the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anthony says that virtual work made it even more difficult to ensure a positive culture with open communication and trust.
“It’s hard to figure out people’s emotions when you’re completely online. There’s not a magical font or emojis to use to tell how someone is feeling in a virtual setting,” he says.
“You’re not seeing people [in person], and they’re probably not going to beat the door down telling you exactly what their feelings are.”
Steve says that reevaluating culture and communication is more important now than ever, and the shift created during the pandemic could be something we take with us in the future.
“Each and every one of us has experienced a mixed set of emotions that include fear, anxiety, stress and uncertainty. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of how much. If there’s ever been a time for organizations to focus on getting their culture right, now is the time,” Steve says.
Want to learn more about good leadership? See what else Anthony, Carol and Steve had to say on the topic in our podcast episode, “Strong Business Culture is the Future of Work.” Don’t forget to subscribe to The BOLD Business Podcast for more insights on leadership and success.