Company culture is often taken for granted. It’s difficult to summarize company culture in a single definition—these intangible elements that create our working environments for better or for worse. One could call it the personality of your company—comprised of your mission, ethics, values, expectations, goals, and environment. These things add up and impact the day-to-day, who you hire, who stays, and how you operate.
The leadership, then, is intrinsically tied to this company culture. Surveys have shown that confidence in leadership is directly tied to a high-performance work culture. So how do you, as someone operating in leadership, whether in a management role or the CEO, foster positive culture in the workplace?
6 Ways Leaders Can Positively Impact Company Culture
1) Set the standards and expectations.
It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are: if you are the leader, you set the precedent for the company’s culture. Everyone will look to you for what is expected of them. Knowing this, it is crucial that you know before you set out what you want your company culture to look like. What environment do you want to create? What standard will you set and hold others to? It starts with holding yourself to that same standard.
2) Invest in your team and employees.
In the role of leadership, we often get wrapped up in our own world. We fixate on numbers, profit margins, and our own measures of success. We see only the expectations we set for our employees and forget that, in our roles, we’re supposed to be pouring out and investing in them.
The structure of leadership that has employees clawing up a corporate ladder is antiquated. When we look at companies and leadership today, we see how it has evolved into a model where leaders exist to nurture, inspire, and invest in their team in order to achieve their goals. As the leader and boss, you should not be rarely seen or unreachable, but there to make yourself and your vision known. Invest in the talent you have hired.
3) Allow people to be people.
We often make the mistake as viewing our employees like a set of skills on a resume and nothing more. People, however, are complex, and while we often wish we could leave our personal lives at the door when we come to work, we know that that isn’t the case. Just as we have bad days and great days because of things happened beyond the office walls, so do employees.
People have to be people. That means listening to them, seeking to understand them, and valuing their well-being. Few companies go further than offering a gym membership in this regard. What helps with well-being? Flexibility, better leave policies, professional development, and socialization in the workplace, to name a few.
Take care of your own. Be empathetic. It might seem like it costs you, but in the long-run, you will find employees who are healthier, happier, more productive, and in it for the long haul.
4) Make small gestures.
In leadership, we spend a lot of time looking at the big picture. The sweeping vision. Sometimes we have to zoom in in order to craft a great company culture. Have you ever written a note of encouragement to your employees? What about a thank you note? A personal birthday card?
Small gestures go a long way towards creating excellent company culture, and they don’t cost you much at all. Praise employees who do a great job. Buy a cake for someone’s birthday, or take them out to lunch with their spouse. Let your team leave a little early after a big accomplishment. Give out holiday cookies. These small gestures might not seem like much, but they make all the difference in the world.
5) Engage in active listening and encourage feedback.
One thing that makes the biggest difference in company culture is whether or not the leadership accepts and listens to feedback. Provide opportunities for your team to give feedback and offer ideas. Accept the notion that you have room to learn and grow as much as anyone else. Don’t ever punish an employee for offering a critique—however harsh—and don’t brush it off, either. See what can be gleaned from it. You will inevitably butt heads with someone at some point, but that doesn’t mean you’re automatically right! Listen to feedback. Listen to your employees.
6) Think beyond the cubicle.
As part of the family in a family-owned business, I appreciate that the people I work with feel and act like family. I enjoy having get-togethers outside of working hours and being able to call many of my co-workers and colleagues friends. Part of what can make a lasting impact on your company culture is this intentionality. By setting up systems and activities to encourage your team members to socialize and learn to not only work together but like one another and foster healthy friendships, you set the stage for lasting, prosperous working relationships.
Workplace friendships can be enormously beneficial as they can create a less stressful environment, encourage collaboration and idea-sharing, and break down other barriers that can get in the way in a cold “work only” office environment that can feel uncomfortable and detached.
So start that trivia team, go out for happy hour on Fridays, celebrate office birthdays, and beat the office down the road at softball.
Creating a positive office environment doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen unless you are intentional. For leaders, this could be the most important thing you do for the long-term health of your business.
Make culture a priority.
Have you had a noteworthy encounter with work culture—good or bad? Share your stories and what you learned in the comments below.