When I knew that I wanted to look for a new job, I took a moment to identify what was important to me in a new role. I considered the normal elements: the role, the location, the commute and the overall package. I also realized the significance of my would-be colleagues and the culture of the organization as considerations in my job search. I asked myself, what would they be like? Are they open and welcoming of new ideas? Are they collaborative or do they work in silos? Do they push their staff to always look for new ideas? Do they look to encourage employees to push themselves in their respective fields? These are just some of the elements that characterize a company’s culture. Dee Ann Turner succinctly commented that “culture is the soul of an organization,” and I couldn’t agree more.
For any business, building a culture does not happen overnight. It is a process that needs to evolve over time and allow for wider interpretation to include a wider set of stakeholders, as the business grows. But for now, the question is: where does it start?
Corporate leaders must begin with defining what they want their company to stand for. Any business can identify a few words that express the culture they are attempting to build in an organization, but creating values goes beyond that. They need to determine a set of values that can be understood and exemplified by employees of the company. Employees then need to be able to identify how their role and their work fits into the company’s values—this personalisation of the values instantly makes a company’s culture more tangible in an employee’s workplace experience. They can identify their role in the company and, more importantly, how that levels up to make an impact beyond their particular job.
An anecdote that I’m often reminded of is a moment from 1962, when U.S. President Kennedy was on a tour of the Nasa Space Center and noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” As the janitor in the story understood, no matter what role they play, every employee contributes to the larger story unfolding in an organization. And when the entire team commits to embracing that type of engaged attitude, incredible things happen.
Once there is a consensus on the values that represent what a company is trying to do, its leaders must exemplify them—showcase them everywhere, and at all levels. Leaders should ask employees to consciously contribute to the advancement of the values and talk about them internally with their teams. Use the standard motto of “all the channels all the time” and ensure the values are present in every material produced internally and highlighted when employees are speaking as representatives for the organization. This is not a one-off piece of work, and companies must allow employees to build a connection with each other and let the values build a life of their own organically.
New employees need to be shown how the values are linked to their roles and how their jobs contribute to the bigger picture of the organization. This should be included in all regular communication efforts—highlighting each value at different points in the internal calendar. It should also be included when company leaders discuss the various successes and failures of the organization.
The last point is key—employees can learn from a company’s values. How can employees be bolder or more curious in their approach? How can they use the values and learn to improve what they do? This element is often forgotten but it is a crucial aspect to instill in an organization’s processes.
It’s also important for corporate leaders to periodically reassess the values and make sure they are current with the expectations for companies today. For example, 10 years ago “flexibility” was a hot topic as a core value, but today, in many workplaces, it is seen as a given. Similarly, the term “diversity” is another value that has expanded over time. Does an organization encompass the right vocabulary to be tangible to all employees? Evaluating this is not an easy task, and should be done keeping the future employee in mind, considering what a job seeker would be looking for in an employer.
When determining how to build a culture that lasts, it comes down to perseverance at all levels to ensure the organization’s mission and values are reinforced over time and backed up in a way that empowers all employees to embody those values in their everyday work.