How to Turn an Aspirational Culture Into a Fully Realized One

Culture begins to emerge at the foundation of your company. In fact, many entrepreneurs will tell you it’s important to define it from day 1 before you even open your doors. But once your company starts to grow, the individuals bringing their unique and diverse perspectives to work each day drive your organization’s culture.

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Simply defining your culture isn’t enough. You must cultivate it, and part of the cultivation process hinges on your recruitment practices. If you build a team with fundamentally different values from your company, your values will eventually shift, along with your culture.

It begins and ends with your employees, as your culture will be enhanced by each employee and his or her talents and individual perspectives. To that end, it’s crucial to establish organizational values that help guide your recruitment processes (and most everything else you do as a company).

Even when you hire according to value alignment, culture will evolve over time. It’s a living and breathing thing, and you must continually work toward realizing your culture’s full potential. Sure, you can give people perks like free coffee, lunchtime yoga, and dry-cleaning delivery, but these are efficiency bonuses that encourage work/life integration rather than real culture drivers. What you really need to do is test and learn with the more strategic initiatives you introduce beyond just the nice extras.

Achieving Culture Realization

Our company, VARIDESK, has experienced significant growth over the past 12 months, with 40% of our staff members in their current roles for a year or less. This growth offers us a unique look at tackling our company culture. For example, it’s incredibly important that we stay diligent about motivating and engaging all employees. We do this through three core tenets: culture matters, leadership matters, and work space matters.

These three tenets inform our initiatives. They’re how we approach cultural transitions in pragmatic and positive ways to ensure our culture never strays too far from our values. How you go about doing this will vary, but to fully realize your culture, you must take tangible steps to make it a reality. The following are often the best places to start:

Select—Don’t Settle

Sometimes, a leadership team finds itself in a pinch. “We just need to hire someone to do the work.” There’s always a best fit for the job, and if you quickly fill a role with someone who isn’t a culture fit, you’re settling rather than selecting—not the best way to add to the team.

Instead, be patient and diligent in the recruitment process. Take the time to hire someone who fits in all respects of the job. In the long term, this approach will result in a workforce that better reflects your desired culture, team, values, and whatever else you’re trying to achieve.

Motivate with Purpose

Engagement is a problem in today’s workforce. Gallup found that only 33% of employees are engaged at work. If you feel employee engagement is waning, do something about it today. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive, healthy culture.

Focus on motivating employees with opportunities to learn and grow. After all, a motivated employee is an engaged one. For some team members, this might mean additional training and education.

Again, this goes back to testing and learning what works best for your employees. You may find that motivation and engagement improve with a philanthropy program in which you give staff a day or two off to volunteer at a local nonprofit organization. These kinds of initiatives are more than just “perks” and provide your team with a greater sense of purpose, which naturally supports your culture.

Weigh Work Space Design

While the work environment doesn’t define a culture, it can certainly allow it to thrive. When you build work spaces that allow for collaboration and ideation, it can create a positive energy. Because energy is transferable, that positivity moves from person to person. It becomes palatable, and you elevate your team.

And the work environment has a real impact on the employee mind-set. If you walk into a well-designed space, it can be an uplifting experience. You want to be there. Actually, it makes it much easier to complete whatever task is at hand. Create spaces for people to collaborate. Do the same with spaces for focus. It’s all about giving employees flexibility in their work environment to support their success.

Walk the Talk

As cliché as it may sound, you really need to lead by example. Your entire leadership team must represent and reflect those aforementioned organizational values. You must be role models of behavior. If you raise the bar for general employees, you must raise the bar for those in the C-suite. It can inspire your team and improve their morale.

It’s also the responsibility of your leadership team to help employees realize their full potential. Give workers the tools necessary to succeed. Provide feedback—both glowing and constructive. And always share your appreciation for their contributions at work. Even a simple “thank you” can go a long way with employees.

Building this living, breathing culture comes from the selection of your employees, how you motivate them, and the quality of life you provide at work. Added together, that’s the equation for moving from aspiration to the realization of your company’s culture.

As chief people officer, Megan Detz leads all Human Resources functions and develops people strategies to help VARIDESK’s business growth. Before joining VARIDESK, Detz served as senior vice president of Human Capital at NTT DATA, Inc., where she helped scale the company’s employee base from 15,000 to nearly 46,000 in 7 years.

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