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Why Renewing Company Culture Matters - Biz Platform

11 Aug 2018 - 09:47 |

Why Renewing Company Culture Matters

For decades, companies — and employees — banked on the idea of establishing decades-long relationships with each other, ending only when the employee entered retirement. In this era, job security and pensions outweighed more nebulous concerns like work-life balance or job satisfaction.

But as dual-income households became the norm and competition made it more difficult for employers to retain employees who now had options, workplace culture took on increased significance. People wanted to work for companies that not only they could stand behind, but those that would stand behind them — companies that would prioritize and support modern desires, such as the elusive, but beckoning, work-life balance.

To counter the accompanying increase in job hopping, businesses began investing in building stronger and more appealing cultures. The problem was — and, to a large extent, still is — that many approached establishing a “workplace culture” as a one-time endeavor, something that could be solved with a small amount of effort rather than a long-term plan. But creating a culture isn’t a one-and-done feat and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

The Challenges of Developing and Maintaining Culture

In this day and age, a company’s missteps on the path to developing and maintaining a great company culture are more visible and can be potentially embarrassing. With access to online comments sections, individual and organizations’ social media accounts, internal employees are capable of advertising these mistakes just as easily as external customers are able to complain about the end product.

Last year, a Google employee wrote a 10-page manifesto, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” criticizing the company’s diversity initiatives and positing that women aren’t as well equipped for tech roles as men, justifying the wage discrimination that has plagued the industry for years. This employee’s disagreement with the company’s planned culture shift shone a light on a brand in the middle of change.

Editor and columnist David Mattin explains in NewCo Shift, “Once, your internal culture was just that: internal. Now, there’s no such thing as ‘internal culture’ anymore. Your culture is totally visible. It’s a fundamental part of your brand. And it can be your most powerful public-facing asset or liability.”

The fact that a culture isn’t static is a good thing: When a brand realizes it needs to change to truly comply with its values or simply to keep up with the shifting economic landscape, it has the ability to do so. That means, however, that it also needs to take control of the narrative.

How Companies Can Rebound

Every company will inevitably experience some setback in establishing the culture it wants (and its employees require), whether that’s public backlash about diversity or an internal sense of malaise about promotion opportunities. Rebounding from these setbacks is not only possible but mandatory for a company — and, by extension, a brand — to succeed over the long haul.

1. Reinvigorate the company’s values. A company’s values are the bedrock operating philosophies and principles that guide an organization's internal conduct, as well as its relationship with its customers, partners, and shareholders. While a company’s core values are meant to be a long-term foundational element, like anything, they can become outdated and may need to be refreshed to ensure they meet modern standards and societal values.

2. Point back to your purpose. One thing that everyone within a company’s four walls can likely agree on is why the company exists. This requires a employees to think about function and purpose separately. For example, a company’s function may be to help businesses make more sales or to provide home healthcare. But take it one layer deeper to evaluate what is the purpose of those functions: to improve businesses’ efficiency and longevity, or to improve individual quality of life for the ill. That’s where you’ll define a company’s true purpose, and it’s what employees can rally around.

3. Ask, “What do we want to be known as?” Successful companies carve out their identity and manage their specialty better than anyone else. “It’s important to look at what you want to be known as both internally and externally — the best home builders, the most capable consulting firm, etc. — and build backward from there,” says Curt Cronin, a former Navy SEAL and the CEO of consulting firm Ridgeline Partners. “Question what doesn’t serve that end goal. Then identify what’s needed to lay the foundation for achieving that identity.”

4. Match words to actions. Workplace cultures that are struggling are often suffering from neglect, so that requires leadership engagement with employees. Nothing damages the effort to build a healthy company culture more than when leaders’ words don’t match their day-to-day actions.  Communicating the company’s values, purpose, and identity to the team through both words and actions is essential. Companywide and one-on-one meetings can be a great start in hitting the reset button on a cultural value gone awry. Most importantly, leaders’ actions to reinforce these critical elements through example and daily conduct will speak louder than any words.  

Establishing — and maintaining — a culture isn’t a one-time exercise. It’s an ongoing effort to manage changes that crop up within the company, the industry, and sometimes society as a whole. For companies that take control of the narrative and steer the culture, rather than be steered by it, it can be an opportunity to create something even stronger than they anticipated.