Expert insight for creating a positive work culture
When analyzing new job opportunities, we all have our own criteria of what constitutes a good fit — competitive compensation, must-have employee benefits, elements related to work-life balance and more.
One aspect many consider when contemplating a new position is less tangible: workplace culture. In fact, a recent Robert Half survey found that more than one-third of workers would pass on the perfect job if the culture wasn’t a good match for them. Similarly, over 90 percent of managers said a candidate’s fit with the organization is equal to or more important than their skills and experience.
So, what exactly is workplace culture? Why is it so important? We consulted a panel of management experts to find out more about creating a positive work culture. See if their insight can help you learn how to set your organization apart.
The importance of establishing a positive workplace culture
“Whether you’ve got an innovative tech startup, a global Fortune 25 behemoth or something in between, a positive work culture can create a virtuous cycle for your business,” says Peter Dudley, author, fundraising executive and corporate responsibility expert. Upon creating a positive work culture, Dudley notes, employees are more likely to be engaged. They tend to have a sense that the company is doing something of value for customers, and they’ll feel empowered to make things better.
So, what happens when employees feel good about the work they do? A recent study from LinkedIn and Imperative found that when people feel connected to purpose at work, both their performance and their commitment to their employer increase. In fact, purpose-driven employees are more likely to experience the following:
- Assume leadership roles
- Feel satisfied at work
- Stay with their current employer for longer
- Pursue professional growth opportunities
The impact company culture has on an organization’s bottom line goes even further. Evidence suggests that over-stressed, disengaged workers are more likely to get sick. In fact, health care expenditures at high-pressure companies are nearly 50 percent higher than those at other organizations.
It’s clear that creating a positive work culture is important. What may seem less evident is when an organization should begin working toward that goal.
“Some companies make the mistake of thinking it’s too soon or they are too small to think about the employee experience,” explains Jennifer McCusker, founder of McCusker Consulting and former vice president of global talent and organizational development for Blizzard Entertainment. “The reality is that culture-building starts from day one, and each new employee either enhances or detracts from that.”
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As you analyze your own company culture, you’re likely wondering if your team has cultivated a positive or negative experience for your employees. If your company has difficulty attracting top talent or exhibits low employee morale, McCusker says these could be signs that your workplace culture needs improvement.
“I absolutely believe you can reverse a negative company culture — however it takes a lot of work, and likely some significant changes,” she adds. “It’s not a project, it’s a movement.”
Creating a positive company culture: 4 Expert tips
McCusker explains that the key to creating a positive work culture is knowing that it cannot be reverse-engineered. What works for one company, she elaborates, can’t be authentically replicated elsewhere. This is because workplace culture is not something that’s owned.
“It is the result of millions of little decisions over the lifetime of a company,” she says. “Because it’s organic, it will quickly change when left untended.”
As you strive to cultivate and maintain a positive culture within your organization, consider the following four pieces of advice from our business experts.
1. Identify your organization’s core values
While there’s no surefire recipe for achieving positivity within your work environment, every organization can benefit by analyzing a few key aspects of its identity. Sam Pardue, CEO and founder of window insert company Indow, highlights three cornerstones of a positive work culture: mission, vision and values. “They are simple, but hard to execute in a credible way,” he says, noting the following about each:
- Mission provides the intrinsic motivation which makes employees excited to accomplish great things at work.
- Vision helps them understand the destiny they are helping to create.
- Values are the ways everyone agrees to work together.
If you hope to build up an employee base that is passionate, engaged and productive, begin by identifying a foundational mission your workers will find exciting.
2. Establish trust by representing those values
Culture coach and consultant Lizz Pellet notes that workplace culture travels from the top down. “Leaders create culture,” she says. “How members of a group take their culture cues is the way they see and perceive how the leader behaves — so what leaders focus on is critical.”
Pellet explains that if an organization’s leadership team is employee-focused, empathetic and authentic, it will send a calming message to employees that their leaders are there for them. That can help keep help improve engagement, productivity and even profitability.
McCusker agrees that cultural representation among leadership teams is crucial:
Having a positive culture means seeing leaders at all levels living the values out loud.
“It means having an employee experience that, at all touch points, is reflective of the company’s beliefs and values,” she adds.
3. Maintain clear and consistent expectations
One element most all of us need to achieve a sense of harmony is consistency. While teams across industries strive to achieve innovation in their product offerings, predictability is actually something many employees seek in a positive work culture. Pardue says it’s critical that your workers are able to fully grasp what’s expected of them.
“Employees want to know what the rules are, and that they will be enforced equally and in a predictable way,” he offers. “Unpredictability in management actions causes contempt and distrust — and ultimately destroys the culture.”
McCusker agrees that maintaining expectations at every level is essential. “I once heard a CEO say that if you are not willing to fire your top performing employee over behavior that is inconsistent with the culture, then your culture is not very strong and you do not truly believe in it.”
4. Ensure your employees feel valued
Creating a positive work culture isn’t simply about workplace happy hours and catered Friday lunches, notes senior partner at Partners in Leadership Jared Jones. “Real culture is rooted in an employee’s daily experiences, which in turn shape their beliefs,” he says. “These beliefs inform their actions, and actions lead to results.”
One survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that over 90 percent of employees who feel valued at work say they’re more motivated to do their best. That drops to just 33 percent among employees who don’t feel valued by their employers.
“Companies led by executives who create positive experiences by consistently offering and asking for constructive feedback, recognizing employees’ efforts during company meetings and even just saying ‘thank you’ on a regular basis lay the groundwork for a positive workplace culture,” Jones explains. He adds that the more employees see this type of behavior, the more valued and connected to the organization’s goals they’ll feel.
Build a positive workplace culture
Investing in your organization’s wellbeing calls for an honest assessment of your company ethos. Take time to analyze what’s working and what isn’t. Then, let the insight from our business experts guide you in creating a positive work culture that can support your organization’s future success.
Once you lay a good foundation, it might feel like the sky’s the limit. You can learn to harness that energy and funnel it into positive results from the beginning by setting goals that are both challenging and attainable. Learn more by reading our article, “How to measure organizational performance: The secret to effective goal setting.”