Building and Maintaining Company Culture

There are many views on company culture—some think it just “happens;” some think it doesn’t matter if your business is doing well; and some think that you have to actively build and nurture it. Our CEO takes the latter stance. You will have a company culture whether you try or not, but the question is- will it be one you are proud of? Will it be one that contributes to your goals as a business?

When I started at WorkStride nearly five years ago, I was the 12th employee. The company culture was one of the things that drew me to the job—it was entrepreneurial, laid-back, non-political, and fun. Now a company of about 60 employees, yesterday we held our first of several small group meetings that all employees will participate in over the next few weeks to proactively define and build our culture.

Hopefully by sharing our experience with others, the process of building and maintaining company culture will seem a little less conceptual and more concrete. Here’s how we are going about it:

  1. Ask employees to define your current company culture. Thankfully, our group came up with the same adjectives I used above to describe the company today. We also identified some additional ones, like fair, inclusive, human, collaborative, innovative, and flexible.
  2. Identify what is good, and what could be better. We talked about negatives too—the main one raised was that we need to get better at interdepartmental communication, both on the work front and the social front. That wasn’t a problem when we had 12 employees, but at 60 it does start to become an issue and something you need to actively work at. And sadly, like the contractor whose house own house needs renovations, our own internal recognition program needs some updates. Putting our clients first is always our priority, but we realized we have neglected our own house for too long and it needs some love.
  3. List what you do currently to nurture the good things about your culture: Once we defined what our culture is, we worked at defining what we currently do to build and nurture it, such as offering unlimited PTO and summer Fridays for flexibility and having a fun committee to create a playful and relaxed environment.
  4. Brainstorm additional ways you can build the culture you want: We had some great ideas from new employees who have come from companies with admirable cultures, including group volunteering and interdepartmental lunches to bring departments together. Another idea was to hold hackathons to further support innovation.
  5. Record the results and act on them. After all of the meetings have concluded, our HR business partner will take all of the groups’ feedback and synthesize it into a single document that will become our culture guidebook. It will be something all employees can get behind, because we all helped to build it. We will come up with an action plan to implement new ideas that are feasible budget-wise and will support our overall goals as a business.
  6. Repeat this process, at least annually. Employees leave, new employees enter, the business environment changes, etc., and our culture will need to evolve with it. We plan on continuing this process yearly to make sure our culture remains top of mind.

We are lucky; our culture has really good bones and just needs a little painting and decorating. If your culture is in disrepair, your meetings might be a bit more about what is broken and how you can fix it, but the process can still work. However, leadership must be totally bought in to the process and the importance of culture if any of the ideas that surface are to be implemented on a day-to-day basis. You must also reinforce the culture by publicly recognizing those who live it and by hiring to sustain it. It’s an ongoing process but one that pays off for both your business and those who run it.

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