Having a strong corporate culture is an essential part of ensuring the long-term health of your organization. While it’s often associated with a company picnic or a teambuilding outing, corporate culture is not about specific events, but instead it is about the way that your business and team functions. Corporate culture can be simplified down to identifying core values and living them out. A company with a strong culture keeps its core values at the forefront of everything it does, both internally and externally.
Corporate culture adds many tangible and intangible benefits to your business, and the importance of developing it and maintaining it cannot be overstated. Organizations with a strong culture can recruit and retain better talent (organizations with a strong corporate culture decrease the likelihood of turnover from 48.4% to 13.9%); maximize productivity; build a strong brand and identity; and facilitate teamwork that leads to collaboration and higher performance throughout the organization (happy employees are 12% more productive than the average worker).
While corporate culture is an integral part of the success of every organization, it’s often neglected by new businesses juggling a myriad of demands. Even for more established organizations, strong corporate culture can be hard to achieve. A recent survey found that only 19% of executives believe that their organization is working towards the ideal culture, and only 12% of executives believe that their organizations have achieved “the right culture.” See Digest of Company Culture Statistics.
Even for those organizations where it’s built and developed early on, a strong culture can be difficult to maintain amidst times of rapid growth. Yet, there is no time when it’s more important to ensure that your culture is strong than during growth, as this is a period when you’re at risk of seeing a drop in standards, quality, and organizational coherence. While it’s not easy, there are a few proactive things that you can do to ensure that you maintain – and perhaps even strengthen – your corporate culture during times of rapid growth.
Before you grow your team, create a plan for protecting and maintaining your culture
Simply by noting the stress that growth can have on your culture and making culture a priority, you’re on the right path for success. Before you undergo periods of chaotic – and wonderful – growth, have a plan for maintaining the culture that has enabled that growth. The right plan will be organization specific, but a few things that you might consider are: scheduling regular “culture audits” to evaluate your organization’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can quickly identify and respond to any problem areas, taking some time to ensure that core values are embedded throughout the organization and visible – both tangibly throughout physical spaces and intangibly in employees’ actions – before you enter periods of change, and creating small, tight-knit teams, anchored by veterans exemplifying your core values. The specifics of your plan will be unique to your organization but ensure that you proactively plan for how you will maintain your culture before seasons of growth.
Keep your culture in mind when hiring
When you’re in need of adding members to your team, it can be tempting to focus only on whether an individual is qualified for an open position. However, resist that temptation and make cultural fit an important criterion in your hiring process. This takes discipline, so consider creating some hiring systems to support this including: having interview questions focused on your core values, sharing specific information about your culture during the hiring process, and having a team of people who are involved in the interview process and that provide feedback on how they believe an individual might fit on the team. Not only will this process help you hire for culture, but it will also improve your hiring process, which can help you attract the best talent. See Digest of Company Culture Statistics. Whatever your hiring process, keep your organization’s culture at the center of it.
Make Communication a Priority
One of the most important components of a strong culture is ensuring that there is good communication throughout the organization, especially from the top down. Good communication includes transparency, regular check-ins with employees, seeking feedback from your team, and building personal relationships with team members. As your organization grows, good communication becomes more difficult, but make it a priority. Schedule weekly check-ins with individuals or, if that’s not possible, with each team, actively seek feedback from employees either in check-ins or through regular surveys (and read and respond to feedback), commit to being transparent even in difficult seasons, and build time into your week to develop personal relationships with your team. Ensuring good communication and transparency in times of growth might be the most important piece of maintaining and strengthening corporate culture, so commit to making it a priority.
Model your culture from the top down
The best way to ensure that your culture is embraced by new team members is by having your veterans model and live the culture in all that they do. This is especially important for top=level employees. Throughout your organization, think about involving a few employees who exemplify your culture in the onboarding and support of new employees. Also, celebrate team members who embody your spirit on a regular basis and in that celebration – whether it’s a shout-out in a meeting, being honored as employee of the month, earning a bonus, or getting an afternoon off – specifically name the behaviors of that employee that exemplify your core values. Living out and modeling your culture is the best way to pass it on, so make this a requirement, especially for top-level employees.
Design physical spaces that reflect your culture
For organizations with strong corporate cultures, their core values are evident in everything that they do. Physical space is no exception. A recent study found that 67% of employees feel drained by their office environment at the end of the day, and only 42% of employees felt that their space allowed them to be productive. These numbers could have profound effects on your culture, making physical space an important part of how you plan for your organization’s culture.
If you value communication and collaboration, make sure that your space is set up in such a way that gives employees the opportunity to sit with each other and brainstorm together. If the health of employees is a priority, make this evident in your physical spaces – whether it’s through an onsite gym, space to relax and refresh, or even through creative desk space (standing desks, ergonomic chairs, medicine balls, etc.). The specifics are unique to each organization, but consider your physical space as an opportunity to grow your culture and be thoughtful in its design and décor.
Create a few words, phrases, or images that embody your core values
While it’s important that your team knows your core values in totality, you probably will find repeating them all to be tedious and ineffective. Instead, have a few catchy words, phrases or images that summarize those core values and use them regularly. Have these reminders posted in physical spaces, include them on emails, say them in meetings, use them in hiring practices, and discuss them in one-on-one check-ins. Repeating and repeating and repeating these will help your entire team internalize your organization’s values, and is an important step in making sure that these values don’t simply live – and die – in your founding documents.
Plan regular events that align with your culture and make them sacred
While corporate culture is much more than a teambuilding event or outing, such events can be an important part of maintaining and strengthening your culture. When planning these events, however, be thoughtful about what you want to accomplish and ensure that the objective aligns with your core values. For example, if you plan a team dinner with the purpose of building relationships and celebrating employees, don’t fill it up with presentations or work-focused content. In contrast, if you want to schedule monthly meetings to foster team collaboration, set up a specific agenda for these lunches to ensure that you achieve that objective. As you plan these for your growing team, think about some events that have been an organic part of your smaller team. Do you have a birthday celebration tradition? Or a monthly happy hour? Consider making those traditions part of your culture-building events. Once you have thoughtfully planned these events, make them sacred. Planning events and then missing them or making a quick appearance has a counterproductive effect. Instead, thoughtfully plan events or traditions that will become part of your team’s DNA, and then commit to them.
Maintaining a strong corporate culture amidst growth is not easy, but these steps should put you in a good position to maintain or strengthen your culture even in chaotic seasons of change. First and foremost, make your culture a priority and plan for how you will protect it and develop it. Then, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a good problem to have. Enjoy a moment celebrating this next challenge in the life of your business, and then plan for it fiercely.
Use NDAs To Protect Corporate Culture
Non-Disclosure Agreements are not just a way to protect intellectual property and know-how; they’re also useful in helping your corporate culture thrive without the risk of losing its innovative side.
In most cases, a confidentiality agreement is signed between employees and the company to make sure trade secrets that are crucial for progress and future development aren’t being spread all over the industry once the employee leaves. However, the way you motivate the people in your team, the processes that led to success and the way people are taught to behave, communicate, and learn should also be protected.
So, while it’s not common practice, you can include these details, that are specific to your company, in the NDA. But, before you do, make sure they are not common knowledge as more and more agreements are being contested in court because the terms used to formulate it are too broad.