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What you need to know about creating a workplace culture
By ATB Financial 19 October 2020 7 min read
When you look at the best-performing businesses in the world, you might wonder what separates them from their competitors. Is it their products or technology, or savvy strategies steered by experienced managers?
More often than not, the answer won’t be any of the above but instead comes from one key concept: Culture.
You’ve heard this idea many times, but you might not know what it means, like how some people say a writer’s voice is important to their craft. Workplace culture is less about what people do than how they do it, from the way they treat each other to how they value their products, customers, and communities.
We spoke to several specialists in this area to share with you the best practices that can lead you to building a healthy and fulfilling workplace culture, whether you’re new to running a business or you’ve been long entrenched in developing your organization’s brand.
Corporate culture and onboarding
Why does culture matter? It sets the tone for how your employees behave and conduct themselves with each other and customers. Also, a strong and healthy workplace culture can benefit your business directly.
Research conducted by Deloitte found that 94 per cent of executives and 88 per cent of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to a company’s success. The bottom line also enjoys a boost, as a McKinsey report wrote: Businesses with a “top quartile cultures post a return to shareholders 60 percent higher than median companies and 200 per cent higher than those in the bottom quartile.”
You want to first begin with a purpose when you establish your company’s culture. Take some time to understand the “why” of what you bring to your customers. What is the reason your business exists? Which problems does it solve? It’s always great to be authentic and aspirational with your company’s strong purpose.
Then look at your staff and the kind of way you’d like to manage them.
“Culture is about having a shared understanding among your people of what’s important and what’s valued,” says Lyndsay Latiff, managing director, Organizational Development, at ATB.
Beginning with the recruitment process, your workplace culture will help you make the right decision on whom to select to join the team, notes Craig Hampson, senior vice president, People and Culture, at ATB. “They should fit the culture of your organization, rather than you trying to fit the culture around this new hire,” he says.
He adds, “Having a clearly defined culture in your business brings a great level of alignment when hiring somebody new.”
Be a role model through transparency
As a business leader, your employees look to you for guidance. They’ll do as you say and do as you do, to paraphrase a well-worn saying. Latiff advises, “Leaders need to be role models and advocates since staff do what they see modeled, and will look to those leaders as examples of how to think about a certain situation and act in a certain way.”
One example could be how you react to an emergency such as a public health crisis. Are you anxious and overwhelmed, or calm and organized and forward-thinking? Are you communicating the direction you’ll take with your entire staff, or are you keeping some information away from them?
Latiff says how you manage your company will be shone back to your employees as expectations going forward. “If your organization has open discussions, creates a high level of trust, encourages cooperation, and facilitates an ease of decision making, that will look very differently than a business who may unknowingly be prioritizing internal competition, which can lead to a lack of trust, the withholding of information from each other and other unhelpful behaviors,” she goes on to say.
To riff off Latiff’s example of cooperation, your pay structure should reflect your shared aspirations. For example, if teamwork is a core value for your business, bonuses should reflect how this value shows up in behaviors or what your team members do.
Trust goes hand-in-hand with transparency. As an Entrepreneur article writes, “It won’t matter one iota if you think you have a great culture, but your employees don’t trust you. Being transparent, even when that's difficult, will go a long way in preserving the culture you originally envisioned.”
Which programs could make your employees feel valued?
One of the more effective ways to instill an attractive workplace culture in your business is to develop employee recognition programs. They can take the form of celebrating stellar workers company-wide or within specific divisions.
“Just like how we offer a customized approach to our customers at ATB, we do the same with our employee recognition programs,” says Latiff. “We want to give them personalized rewards to show our appreciation.” At ATB, rewards are connected to cultural values and recognized employees can choose from a catalogue of prizes for these awards, which can help incentivize staff and encourage them to reach their personal goals.
Other companies have other programs to thank their staff, such as hosting a “Gratitude Night” to let employees know about their positive impact on their customers. The corporate office reads over letters sent in from satisfied customers and writes personal, handwritten notes to employees who have assisted these customers.
It takes time and resources to build a constructive company culture and supporting the well-being of your workforce, but there aren’t any shortcuts to boosting morale and instilling confidence.
Diversity and inclusion matters
Approaching inclusion from a leader’s lens, you should try to make a concerted effort to instill this value into your workplace. Hampson says, “You have to determine how important this is to you as an organization and how you choose to highlight this aspect in your culture. You have to be intentional about it, be serious about diversity among your staff.”
He adds what you do in diversifying your workforce will impact how potential hires view your business. “I believe that the stars in your industry, that you want to attract to your company, will make their decisions based on what you do with diversity and inclusion.”
In this space, you can’t just talk the talk but also walk the walk. It’s one thing to promote the importance of inclusionary hiring practices via memos, say, but it’s another for your staff to see this behavior become a reality when they scan the lunch room (or Zoom meeting) to see the array of faces all aligned to achieving the same purpose and milestones.
Show your humanity
The COVID-19 pandemic taught many business leaders to bring empathy to their company culture. Latiff says, “Most organizations today will say they want to be customer-centric and at the core this involves a need to be human-centric. They might talk a lot about ‘thriving’ and I contend that to mean the intersection where being good, or your contribution, and feeling good, or your well-being, and how these converge”.
Culture springs forth from employees comfortable with how their employer treats them. Employee wellness and wellbeing can set your company apart from the competition, especially if your rivals are so wrapped up in sales targets they stiff-arm the intrinsic needs of their team.
If you’re sympathetic to an employee’s challenges during, say, a public health crisis, the ripple effects of your decision-making will generate confidence among your employees that you truly care about their lives outside the office.
As a Forbes report notes, try to foster workplace relationships in order to further cement that positive company culture. “When employees barely know their colleagues and rarely interact, there’s no possible way for a strong culture to grow. Leaders need to provide employees with opportunities for social interactions in the workplace.”
Finally, you should recognize how the ingredients to a company’s culture will vary from business to business, and what worked for your last venture, for example, might not fit with your current entrepreneurial journey. The more you develop those shared assumptions and values with an eye towards the people right in front of you, the more successful your cultural fit will be for everyone in your organization.
If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business, our entrepreneur strategists are here to help you explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!