When a crisis happens and times are tough it can be easy to lose focus on the importance of supporting and growing a strong corporate culture. The vision for the company can become blurred due to sudden change, communication can reduce due to higher workloads, the work environment can become dispersed due to remote working, and individual autonomy can be sacrificed for company-wide decisions.
Although sudden changes to strategy and adjustment of priorities may be required, it is important not to lose focus on supporting the strong culture that took time and great effort to build. As you know, your people hold the solutions to the problems your business is facing - and you will be trusting them to turn things around.
A neglected culture increases turnover rates, decreases employee productivity and reduces your chance of being able to attract the best talent - exactly what you don’t need when your organisation is in the midst of a tricky period.
It’s important to always maintain your corporate culture, however bad the situation is.
Beyond encouraging your employees to thrive and stay with you, your culture is also important when it comes to hiring talent. It is something that you need to communicate at the very early stages in your hiring process. It can contribute towards you attracting a diverse range of professionals who will help your business navigate this difficult landscape.
Increasingly, job seekers are making the final decision of whether or not to accept an offer based on the company’s culture and if they see themselves ‘fitting in’.
In order to keep hold of and hire the best talent, your company culture needs to be enticing and exciting to job seekers and inspiring for existing employees so that it drives them to want to work as hard as possible for the company.
What is corporate culture?
Defining your company's culture is difficult and measuring it is even harder. In short, it’s the values, beliefs and attitudes that guide actions within a company.
Having a concrete vision of what you want your organisation to represent makes it a better place to work; your cultural dynamic is of utmost importance to employees’ happiness. It increases your appeal to clients as well!
Four key components are:
- Values - Your values sit at the core of your corporate culture. They offer guidance, shaping what your employees focus on in the workplace and provide direction on how they should do their jobs on a day-to-day basis.
- Employees - Your people have to embrace your values. They are the ones living and breathing your culture. Every single employee should be willing to support the culture - a key consideration when you’re hiring new talent.
- Environment - The workspace plays a big role in shaping a culture. Now, with remote working much more prevalent, the goalposts have shifted slightly. But it is still your duty as an employer to help those remote workers create an office environment at home (or wherever they are based) which is aligned to your culture.
- Actions - Demonstrating how your business embodies its values is crucial. Relationships with suppliers, customers, employees and the wider community should all reflect your core values. Actions speak louder than words!
Beyond employee wellbeing, company culture has also been shown to have a tremendous effect on companies' financial performances. Managing workplace culture is a critical business function nowadays and in summary, a strong and positive workplace culture is believed to:
- Promote innovation within teams
- Enhance a firm’s reputation by creating a positive public perception
- Help with the attraction and retention of highly qualified talent
- Reduce the risk of misconduct from employees
Ways to maintain a strong company culture during tough times
So you know what corporate culture is and a bit about why it’s so important to preserve, but how can you go about it?
Quite often, simple human actions can really help keep morale high and ensure that the true spirit of your business carries on breathing throughout your teams. The key things to consider are:
- Let your employees have a voice - Never assume you know how they are feeling or what they need. Encourage them to tell you and really listen to what they say. This will show them that you care for their interests and will increase the trust they have for you as their leaders - and this can have a knock-on positive effect on performances!
- Honesty is always the best policy - Being transparent is crucial. Even when things are bad and people are more sensitive to what’s happening, your teams have the right to know what’s going on. Let them know that: “We’re all in this together.”
- Show that you’re controlling what you can - When so many external factors influence the situation, it can be easy to park all the blame on them and claim it’s out of your control. Whilst this may be the case, you should still focus on what you can control like the tone of the working environment and the tasks each employee should be completing. This will massively ease the concerns your workforce may have.
- Release your creativity - Too many businesses jump to careless changes as a quick fix when their situation needs salvaging. Instead of making wholesale changes to your culture, be thoughtful and come up with creative solutions to preserve the spirit of your organisation.
- Show your support for employees - Supporting the wellbeing of employees is an important aspect of management in any organisation at any time, but it is especially key in difficult times when individuals will all have unique worries and concerns. Showing you care instils a level of trust which will permeate the whole business.
- Regular communication - Above all else, making regular contact with your employees is integral to maintaining a strong company culture. If a large portion of your workforce is working remotely, avoid long emails - why not give updates via company wide conference calls or post video updates on your intranet? Having a real person delivering the information is much nicer and easier to digest than reading through an email which can be deemed as soulless!
In short, these considerations are common sense and you really should be thinking in this way already. But when the situation is difficult, a rush of blood to the head and rash decisions occur more often than you may think.
4 indicators of an organisation with “strong corporate culture” and how you can improve yours
Every organisation will have different expectations of what constitutes a good corporate culture. This said, there are a few consistencies that seem to contribute to establishing a positive environment:
- Tone from the top - Senior management should take clear responsibility for setting the core values and expectations for the organisation, and subsequently their behaviour should reflect these.
- Accountability - All employees should know the core values and expectations and be aware of the importance of upholding them, whatever their position.
- Effective challenge - At every level of seniority, decision making should consider a range of views by encouraging open discussion; inclusive culture advocates innovation.
- Incentives - Compensation that rewards those behaviours which support core values and expectations, whether financial or not, should be made available to all levels of employees.
But beyond these, how exactly do you go about developing a good culture or improving your existing company culture? Well, here are 6 simple steps you can take…
- Establish regular work processes: Employees should share their work processes for specific tasks to establish a common way of working, saving time, conflict and questions.
- Focus on people, not profit: Culture must have a clear purpose that is communicated to everyone; leaders must follow the company culture passionately.
- Develop what already exists: Stay true to your business values, don’t try and force a culture based on a misguided perception of what you want it to be.
- Communicate your culture: Guidelines which unpack core values reinforce your culture across the workforce and suggest how employees should act.
- Reward those who help others: Create a culture where common values of caring and sharing are not just words, but actions.
- Foster social connections: A sense of social connectedness at work boosts employee satisfaction and increases engagement with tasks.
If all else fails and your organisation is still struggling to establish an identity, you may consider enlisting the help of a third party organisation. There are numerous out there dedicated to helping companies create shared cultures and goals, embrace transformational change and communicate better with their employees and stakeholders by developing engagement strategies.
Here are a few ways companies have gone about it differently…
Focus groups - Some businesses encourage employees to join groups where discussions are held about what they think works within their team and what doesn't. The team uses information gathered to improve functions, with end results improving employee satisfaction and overall happiness.
9 day fortnights - Seen at various oil and gas companies, employees have the luxury of every 2nd Friday off. This has led many employees to work harder when they are in the office to get everything completed so they can relax over their three day weekend.
Unlimited annual leave - Employees are given this freedom in return for full dedication when in the workplace.
It is clear that a positive company culture plays a key role in the day-to-day functioning of a business and the management of this is widely considered a critical business process.
A positive culture will reduce the risk of misconduct, promote innovation within teams, enhance reputations, as well as helping with attraction and retention of talent.