From the logistical hurdles of remote work to the emotional impact of the uprising for black lives, the past few months have created significant personal and professional challenges for workers. In this context, a solid, supportive, and motivating company culture has never been more important.
Company culture is a tool for more than recruitment and retention; if done right, it goes much deeper. Company culture is the cornerstone that motivates and unites workers behind your company’s vision and values. A strong culture will help ensure employees have an active stake in the success of the business and come to work every day ready to give 110%. In our current environment of extreme uncertainty, it can even determine whether your business will sink or swim.
Recognizing When Change Is Needed
Sometimes, it is painfully obvious when your company needs a culture change. If you are struggling to retain employees or if your office is frequently managing conflicts and drama, this is a clear sign that change is needed.
However, these cases should really be considered rock bottom. The truth is, the sooner a business takes action to set its culture on the right track, the better. Nipping the problem in the bud will require significantly fewer resources and disruptions.
If your business is doing fine with retention and morale, ask yourself: Is fine good enough? Across the board, the most successful companies and leaders are the ones who constantly optimize. Even with only minor issues or shortcomings, companies should be aware of the missed opportunities to optimize productivity, innovation, and engagement. In the end, “status quo” and “entrepreneurship” do not belong in the same sentence.
In fact, if your company seems to be doing fine, complacency from leadership may be one of the clearest signs that it’s time for a cultural shake-up. In day-to-day operations and interactions, if leadership is settled into the status quo rather than actively seeking opportunities to innovate, this attitude will permeate from the top down. Pretty soon, your company will be leaving money, growth, and opportunity on the table.
You may not be facing a personnel crisis right at this moment, but your company’s culture will continue to develop whether you take an active role in guiding it or not, and it will soon grow into something you cannot control. In the end, you’ll be losing more than opportunities to optimize productivity and will be confronted again by the need to make a change, only this time from a much more challenging vantage point.
Making the Change
Reinventing your corporate culture boils down to reinventing your approach to employees and their growth. The trick is to move from a mainly contractual relationship, in which employees see their roles only in terms of fulfilling their job description and clocking out, to a relationship based on mutual and personal investment, genuine motivation, innovation, and the desire to grow.
1. Take ownership of the current environment. There is no shame in owning your company’s shortcomings if it comes with a clear vision to correct them. More importantly, if you acknowledge the need for a cultural change, it allows employees to do the same.
At this early stage, it is crucial for leadership not only to acknowledge the problem but also to claim responsibility for it. Shaming employees for a lack of morale or creative spirit will rarely create the conditions for them to do better and may lead to them bearing down defensively into current habits.
Instead, look at the problem with clear eyes, claim responsibility, and include employees in the development of a new vision for the future. This will help motivate and support the entire company throughout the change.
2. Develop company values. A strong and progressive company culture is not built on catered lunches or designated “nap rooms.” Rather, it is developed around core values that demonstrate how a company treats its employees and how it handles business decisions both internally and externally.
Values will determine who you hire, the customers and partners you attract, the deals you make, and even the deals you walk away from. If your company has values already established, now is the time to look inward and identify the areas of disconnect. It may even be time to select different values that better fit the evolution of your business.
If you do not yet have values in place, the work begins today. What do you hope to accomplish, what do you have to offer, what role do you play in the market, and what kind of relationship do you hope to foster with clients and customers? These answers will help identify core beliefs and goals that will lead you to your values.
Include your employees in this process. You do not need to have all of the answers right away. Present your vision, and listen closely to their input. Making this process collaborative will not only set the precedent for forward thinking but also further concretize your team’s buy-in at every level of the business.
3. Invest in employees. At the end of the day, the well-being of your employees forms the backbone of your business. If your efforts do not center on investing in and developing your employees, you will not succeed in reinventing your company culture. Get to know your team, show them they are heard, and reinforce that their contributions matter.
No matter the size of a company, frequent and consistent reviews are one of the most powerful tools for both investing in employees and keeping alignment with overarching values. Reviews are an opportunity to set goals and objectives that help develop both your business and employees professionally and personally. Taking this time to regularly communicate with employees as individuals really pays off and will motivate them to stick to goals and exceed them where possible.
In addition, reviews are critical opportunities for mutual constructive criticism. Developing a values-based company culture is an ongoing and active process. It’s important to ask questions such as how do your employees feel in this process, and how do they think you could be doing better? How is the company doing overall? In return, what can employees do to best align their work with the company’s values, and how well do their goals tie in?
Values-based reviews are an opportunity to revolutionize relationships within your organization and infuse it with a strong tradition of energy and innovative thinking.
4. Hire a direct support role for the CEO. Relationship maintenance is a lynchpin of your reinvented company culture and morale. But CEOs are often so bogged down with running the company that it can be a real challenge to dedicate that needed time for development.
Hiring someone dedicated to carrying the CEO’s voice and mission will ensure employees get the ongoing support and investment they need and that the CEO is able to balance his or her responsibilities effectively.
Depending on company size, this may sound like an extravagant hire, but the role should be filled by someone whose skill set can take on multiple responsibilities. When all is said and done, this support role will help empower every team member to do his or her best-possible work.
Clearly, your company culture cannot be reinvented overnight. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t work. Throughout this process, like many of the most worthwhile in the development of a company, what you get out of it will be proportionate to what you invest. In this time of extreme uncertainty and emotional upheaval, there is no better investment.
Lisa Raja, is the Chief of Staff at Oakland-based infusion technology company Vertosa. A relentless entrepreneur, Raja’s entrepreneurial spirit was inherited from her father and came to life in her first business as a boutique owner, adding to her over 20 years’ experience in fashion, retail, merchandising, and business development. She hung up her fashion hat and launched Trademoms, a marketplace empowering mothers to capitalize on their skills as a currency. Through it all, Raja developed a line of small batch skin care, Anaya Lily, a passion project that led her to Vertosa and the cannabis industry. She has been featured in both local and national press, including KTVU Fox News and Oakland Magazine.