Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Take care of your people and protect your business
What Is Culture Strategy?
Culture strategy is a clear set of priorities that equips leadership to create a team culture that drives people-centered outcomes and fuels the employee experience. Culture in our workplace is best described as a combination of all of the parts of our work—behaviors, values and systems—that create an experience for employees and customers. Culture strategy involves creating a plan that determines how things get done within the workplace while being mindful of the way in which operations, beliefs, and company values impact employees and their behaviors, performance and experience.
Why Is a Culture Strategy Important?
Building an effective culture strategy is critical to the success of your company. The culture of a company can be observed in each employee, and has a direct impact on productivity, your product, your employer brand and your customers. The culture of your company has a direct impact on your bottom line and the talent you are able to attract. Here are some specific functions a culture strategy provides.
- Building a culture strategy provides clarity and focus for collective action and decision making. According to The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture, once you have defined your culture strategy, it will be easier to assign goals to individuals and monitor in real-time where you may need to iterate on your outlined strategy.
- Culture drives performance and engagement. Your culture strategy encourages a common purpose among employees and an open floor to share concerns and ask questions. It allows employees to deeply understand the business and all the ways each team member directly impacts the organization. When people feel supported and heard, they are generally much more passionate and engaged with their work.
- Positive impact on the customer experience. According to Corporate Edge, companies that have strong customer service have a strong, positive culture at their company. Richard Branson famously stated, If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your business.” An effective culture strategy results in positive external brand perception.
- A positive culture impacts innovation and agility. Creating an environment where people feel safe and supported to make mistakes, share their ideas, collaborate freely, and solve problems together enables your employees to be nimble, making changes when needed according to the obstacles before them.
What Should Be Included In a Culture Strategy?
Since culture is subjective, it’s important to take a holistic approach to reviewing your organization. The list below is a great starting point when determining which elements should be included in your culture strategy.
Your Team’s Voice and Mission
Since your people are the heartbeat of your organization, including their voice within your strategy promotes employee engagement. Your company’s mission is the foundation your people stand upon and strive to meet. Your mission is the framework your team gathers around to support, and if it is not clearly communicated by leadership, your team can easily become focused in different directions, resulting in individualistic power struggles. Your strategy should outline team goals and make clear how each team contributes to your overall goals.
When employees are unhappy, culture breaks down. Negative feelings and feedback spreads 10x more quickly than positive ones. Understanding factors that contribute to unhappy employees (poor work-life balance, lack of support, lack of learning and development resources, lack of flexibility, lack of autonomy, being micromanaged, little or no recognition, etc.) are all elements that should be evaluated when crafting your culture strategy. Happy employees should be your ultimate goal if you want to develop a strong, positive and supportive culture.
Growth and Development
As an employee, few things are more demoralizing than realizing that you lack opportunities for growth, development, or advancement. That is a sure-fire way of killing your culture. Nobody wants to be stuck in a dead-end job, so make sure you factor in learning and development tools and resources for your workforce within your culture strategy.
Talent Acquisition Strategy
Ensuring that your talent team understands and supports the desired company culture so they can screen candidates for culture fit will ensure that the culture you are striving to build continues to be positive. We’ve all heard the phrase “It only takes one bad egg to spoil the bunch.” Throughout the interview process, allow team members who would interact with the candidate in day-to-day work to be involved in the interviewing process. Your talent acquisition strategy and your culture strategy should be tightly entwined.
Internal Collaboration and Communication
Great cultures have strong, open, transparent communication and problem solving that brings teams together to accomplish shared goals. Promoting this behavior within your culture strategy is an absolute must. You can do this by fostering an environment where communication and transparency are valued and tools and resources that make sharing easy are provided.
Employee Rewards and Recognition
Recent research has shown that the most important driver of great work is employee recognition. Positive reinforcement is a proven method to receive more of the thing you want to see. According to an O.C. Tanner research study, 37% of respondents indicated that being recognized for their contributions was the most effective way to inspire their best work. Building an employee rewards and recognition strategy ensures that your team members are being recognized and rewarded for their work and increases employee well-being and performance. When an employee understands that their work is seen and appreciated, positive company culture is strengthened.
Adaptation and Change Management
Change is inevitable in all parts of our lives, but especially in the workplace. Regardless of what type of changes you are looking to implement, transparency and early communication are key to enabling employee adaptation and a smoother change management process. Leaders that promote change positively communicate that change is okay and that it helps the company learn, grow and expand. Leading with communication and positivity ahead of the impending change helps ensure a smoother transition.
How to Create a Culture Strategy
Your culture strategy is one of the most important contributions to your company’s success. For better or for worse, in good times or bad, culture and leadership are inextricably linked, making it imperative that leadership is fully aligned on culture strategy and embraces continuous evaluation and iteration as the company grows and brings on new leadership. While there is no exact formula to “getting it right” outside of embracing continuous evaluation and iteration, the steps below can help you build a foundation.
Step 1: Identify Your Baseline
It is next to impossible to plan or strategize any type of meaningful impact or change without understanding where the areas of concern are within your organization. While annual engagement surveys are useful and can help spot trends over time, one data point is not enough for analysis. Utilizing a mix of sources produces a significant enough amount of direct data to analyze and begin to create your strategy. Here are examples of tools you can combine.
- Culture survey: questions specifically designed around culture, for example:
- Are you comfortable with your workplace culture? If yes, Why?
- On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our organization to your friends and colleagues due to the culture?
- Do you feel respected by your team and the organization?
- Does your manager provide you with timely feedback about your work?
- Which aspects of the organization can be improved to make it a better place to work?
- People pulses (1:1s) and stakeholder interviews: these quick check-ins between employees and their manager(s) promote open dialogue about individual employee experience at the company.
- Focus groups: create small groups to come together to discuss specific topics of your culture. These topics could conclude:
- Employee resources and support. Do individuals feel they have the necessary tools, resources and support to be successful in their position and at the company?
- Opportunities for improvement. Bring a small group together to discuss areas within the organization that could benefit from change.
- Employee benefits. This group can discuss things such as work/life balance, medical/dental/mental health coverage options, learning and development, or any other area within the employee benefit space. What’s working, what’s not working, and are there any benefits that are underutilized or new benefits that could be added?
- Encourage employees to express any experiences, concerns or ideas through anonymous Feedback Boxes. Some of these may include things like:
- Leaving positive feedback about a new tool or resource that was recently provided.
- Concern around not receiving timely or consistent feedback from a direct manager.
- An idea for an employee benefit that would help support mental health & work/life balance.
All of these tools bring you information about what is happening in your company’s culture and what people would like to see changed.
Step 2: Understand Why You Exist
Having a clear and direct understanding of why your company exists and what the company’s mission is critical when creating your culture strategy. Determine how your company values are lived in practice and how teams implement and celebrate the foundational values of your organization. What happens when teams live outside of the company’s values? Are your values just words on a page, or are they being fully embraced and engrained within the work your employees perform ? Bringing your core values to life (or not) creates your culture. Your employees benefit from anchoring their work to the organizational purpose.
Step 3: Create a Project Plan
Create a project plan that includes all of your data collection, analysis results, and ideas for changes to implement. This will help you to stay on track, break down the larger project into smaller, more actionable segments, and ensure that no part of your research goes untouched or gets forgotten about. Align your internal communication strategy to your project plan to keep employees informed ahead of time and aware of the changes you will implement. Providing an overall timeline to employees provides transparency and shows that the work being done to provide a solid and positive culture is intentional and thoughtful.
Step 4: Consult Your Employees
Make sure you have valued the input from leadership and employees by including it in your strategy. By sharing the issues or concerns that were discovered in your research and clearly showing how you will address them, employees will know they are being heard and will be more open and adaptable to the changes you are putting in place.
Step 5: Execute in Stages
Focus on encouraging or changing only one or two behaviors or areas of your culture at a time. Choose authentic leaders to help you communicate and implement changes. By influencing only one or two areas at a time, employees will begin to see and feel the changes without being overwhelmed.
Step 6: Measure Your Results
Keep collecting data. Create smaller surveys throughout the process, and connect in 1:1’s and small workgroups to elicit real-time feedback from your employees. Use this information to help you course-correct along the way.
Step 7: Align Your Hiring Strategy With Your Culture
Make sure your talent team is screening and interviewing candidates based on what will be the strongest culture fit. Aligning candidates to your future culture goals ensures immediate, positive reinforcement of the behaviors and culture you are working to build in your organization. Providing earlier access of your culture strategy to your talent team will result in getting further ahead versus bringing on more talent that will have significant change management very early in their career with you.
Step 8: Practice What You Preach
Be open, communicative and transparent. Hold yourself to the same standards as every employee. Share what’s working and what still isn’t, and communicate that you will continue to iterate until you get it right—and even after that—to make sure that every individual within the company feels safe, secure, supported, and seen. And remember, there is no right or exact way to implement a culture strategy, as there are many holistic and subjective factors at play. Utilizing a growth mindset and embracing consistent iteration will ensure that you remain on the right path to a positive and productive culture with the happiest employees.
Questions You’ve Asked Us About Culture Strategy
Katie is an executive People & Talent leader with strong demonstration of building and scaling HR teams from startups to corporate teams. She has experience in building strong, globally focused culture & inclusion across remote, hybrid and onsite teams with a strong passion for people, engagement, & talent development.