What defines your company culture? (Hint: It’s not the perks.)

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Perks Do Not Make Your Company Culture.

Culture is not defined by the perks you add to your office. Yes, perks like ping pong tables and kegerators can help attract new talent, but it’s not why employees stay. Culture is about the foundation of trust you build with your employees. If your foundation is faulty, no amount of fanfare can fix it. Let’s get to the root of your culture.

Culture – it’s not the perks in your office, it’s how managers choose to say yes and no.

When’s the last time you went to your manager with a request? How did it turn out? Did they make you feel bad about your request to take a personal day off or stay home with your child? This response is where culture starts in as office. If a manager makes you feel bad during these interactions, as an employee you hear the conclusion that your boss thinks, “Your life is not as important as this job.” and as an employee, you respond accordingly… I don’t mean a verbal response, but the assumed messaging keeps you from making any additional requests and in the long term makes you resent your job and manager. This creates trust fractures in the foundation of your relationship with your employer.

Now, if you have a positive interaction during your requests, the opposite happens. You feel trusted by your manager, you are lifted up and supported and you are free to live and work in peace. Theses positive interactions build trust and create a more solid foundation with your employer.

Want to build your ‘trust’ culture?

Culture your employees help you build will last much longer than anything you come up with on your own. Start with the below ideas to get your culture on the right track:

  • Personalize your culture to what employees want. Give them a say. More than likely, they will have better ideas than just one person coming up with ideas and solutions. Also, if you give employees a say, they will feel listened to, appreciated and be more excited to live in the culture they helped create.
  • Negative feedback is a good thing. A good culture is not only about the good things; management needs to be open to hearing about areas they can improve in. You can do this with anonymous feedback via an online survey link or a good old suggestion box. (Whatever you implement, be sure to make it super easy to access. But don’t forget to send out reminders for your employees to use it. And never try to ‘track down’ who said something negative; you will squash all hopes of honest feedback in the future.) Negative feedback tells you where to start improving your culture immediately. People don’t care about a new office perk if they have a crappy computer.
  • Implement a culture of learning. This shows employees you want to invest in them and develop them as employees… all rockstar employees want this. Ways to do this: Start a company library, make a book club, encourage employees to go to educational events in your industry and pay for your employees to attend conferences as an incentive for doing a good job. At Workshop Digital, we made a competition around growing accounts, and the employees that won the contest, earned a ticket to a conference on the other side of the nation. (A lot of the great ideas I’m sharing came from my time with Workshop; and most of these ideas were collaborated ideas from the entire staff, not just me. …see, more proof on collaboration!)

Employee Recognition

    • Make it Awesome. We had a ‘Wall of Awesome’ at Workshop, where each person had their headshot on the wall and any employee could write something awesome that another employee or manager did and tape it up it on the wall. This way the entire team could lift each other up, not just be recognized by the managers. Often, peer recognition means just as much if not more than management recognition.
    • Have a Rockstar Notebook. This is a blank notebook where employees and managers can write personal notes to employees in this book with the instructions to pass it on the same way to another employee. The book collects a ton of awesome personal letters and can be used as a reference.
    • Thank you notes are still in. Seriously, just write a plain old thank you letter to someone in your office. Bonus points for a handwritten letter. this kind of letter is incredibly impactful in our digital age. I bet the employee will keep it on their desk and looking at it may help give them a boost on a rough day.

Tips from an outside consultant:

An outside consultant should never completely throw out an existing company culture, they should improve on the good things and prune the negative culture enhancing aspects. Negativity kills culture. Death to negativity!

  • Authenticity. Culture has to be authentic and address current issues facing employees.
  • Can you do your job? Employees won’t care that you have a pinball machine, if their basic needs are not met. Do your employees have everything they need to successfully do their job? Ask them. Start with this question and when they finally say yes, they have everything they need, then (and only then) focus on new office perks by asking them what they would like to see in the office. This goes back to the personalization bullet above. Please read it again – it’s the very first bullet in this post.

As a culture consultant, most of what I find killing company culture, is  managers not defining employee expectations.

The struggle is real with expectations. I have not encountered a company without this issue. So, no worries – now that we all know we have this issue, let’s do something about it.

    • Why – Most employees don’t want to feel like they are floating with no direction. This creates uneasiness at best and dissent at worst.  Your employees will resent management if you don’t share your expectations with them.
    • When – I make all my clients define 30, 60, 90 day & yearly goals for every existing and new position at a company. This helps employers know where to start and lets employees know what the most important aspect of their job is to their employer. It’s often just assumed that the employee knows what the employer wants, and that is a recipe for disaster. If you just tell employees up front, they will all be paddling in the same direction.
    • How – Most employers have no idea how to define your employee expectations. This is when I sit clients down and have a hard back and forth conversation where I ask ‘why’ a lot. As an employee, if you are not getting this info from your manager, it’s time to start managing up. Really, you should be doing this anyway.

Over communication is key to building trust

And building trust building lays a great foundation for culture growth.

If you don’t feel like you are over communicating, you are not communicating enough.

Over communication was one of my biggest takeaways from Workshop Digital. I helped them organize a bunch of office changes, and you absolutely have to over communicate when making any change in an office. Below is a list of tips to help you implement changes in your office and have everyone onboard rowing in the same direction:

      • You have to verbally say the change out loud, and most importantly, you have to give the WHY behind it
      • You have to send out a followup email outlining the change
      • You need to post a printed copy on a bulletin board (near the water cooler is a great spot)
      • Post it internally on your company intranet
      • Mention a verbal reminder a week following the initial change update
      • Enforce it and remind people (gently, please) when you don’t see the change
      • And ideally, you need one more touch point to sear it into their brains. We all need to hear and see something 7 times to truly be on board.

Seem like a lot of work? It is. But you only get out of your foundation what you put in. You have the power to create a trusting environment that leads to great culture.

It’s up to you.

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