The Definition of Work Culture and How to Foster a Thriving One

5 min read
May 24, 2016

The_Definition_of_Work_Culture_and_How_to_Foster_a_Thriving_One_1.jpgDifferent people define organizational culture in different ways. Just take a look at this Harvard Business Review article, which offers an array of different interpretations of the term.

If we synthesize these definitions, we can say that organizational culture is made up of the values and beliefs that a company expects its employees to share and be motivated by. Organizational culture helps control and influence behavior for the better — at least in theory.

Strong organizational cultures are extremely beneficial for a variety of reasons:

  • Culture helps reinforce the company’s vision and values: Employees get on the same page and work together toward the same goal
  • Companies with strong cultures are often great places to work: Building a great company culture results in higher employee retention stats. Culture also attracts top talent, widening the pool of prospective employees
  • Leadership transitions are easy to stomach: When companies have strong cultures, employees know exactly what’s expected of them. They likely won’t skip a beat when new managers are hired or rise through the ranks internally

Organizational cultures make or break any company. When culture is great, workers love showing up to the office and working hard every day. When their work comes up in a conversation, they speak highly of their company. Employees of organizations that have great cultures are also less likely to look for new gigs.

On the flipside, when culture is terrible, employees become disengaged. They put less and less effort into their work, and they always have one foot out the door, ready to pounce on any job offer that comes their way. Let’s hope their work never comes up in a conversation with their friends. They won’t have many good things to say.

This all being the case, it is critical that companies spend time and invest resources in creating and sustaining an enviable organizational culture. So how exactly do you create an organizational culture that fosters employee engagement?


1. Be as transparent as possible

Your staff devotes a good chunk of their waking lives to your organization. So don’t keep them in the dark about your strategy. Tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing. Clue them in on any major developments, and let them know what’s going on. Be as transparent as possible, and your team members will provide you the same courtesy.


2. Listen to your staff

Your employees are full of imagination and creativity. If you want them to be motivated, you need to tap into their brains and unlock their ideas. Regularly solicit ideas from your employees in brainstorming sessions and meetings. Some of them will probably not be so good, but some of them will be awesome. Put the best ones into practice. Your employees will be encouraged because they’ll know their ideas matter.


3. Hire the right people

Keeping your employees on the same page is possible. You just have to make sure that all of the new blood you bring in is on that page as well. Do your due diligence and try your best to hire for cultural fit. Be very honest and straightforward about what your company is like. This way, it’s unlikely new hires will be surprised by their experiences.


4. Let workers be autonomous

You hired your employees to do a job — so let them do it. Don’t be a micromanager. Let your employees take care of their job responsibilities on their own. You may have to intervene sometimes when work doesn’t meet your expectations. But for the most part, when you hire the right people, they are more than capable of doing their jobs well on their own.


5. Invest in team-building activities

According to our 2015 Employee Engagement Report, coworkers are the number one thing employees like about their jobs. When organizational culture is strong, employees have each other’s backs. This means they’re more likely to pinch hit when their coworkers need help. One of the easiest ways to reinforce your culture is by investing in team-building activities. Whether that’s hosting happy hours, taking company field trips, or playing icebreaker games is up to you.


6. Make professional development a top priority

All workers — and millennials in particular — value professional development. Companies that have great organizational cultures understand this and offer ample opportunities for career growth. If you have the budget for it, pay for your employees to attend relevant conferences and seminars. If not, host in-office training sessions or lead workshops of your own.  


7. Embrace collaboration

Collaborative environments are fun to be in. Ideas flow. Different departments work directly with one another. Employees get a chance to wear multiple hats. For this reason, companies with great organizational cultures are often collaborative by design.


8. Promote from within

Most professionals are interested in climbing the corporate ladder if for no other reason than they wouldn’t mind making more money. Companies with strong cultures are known to promote leaders from within instead of hiring talented folks from the outside. When employees notice that their colleagues are getting promoted, they’re more likely to be engaged because they know they have a chance of being next.


9. Recognize hard work

Building a great organizational culture starts with rewarding your employees for their hard work. You can’t expect your staff to feel super motivated to show up to the office every day if you never compliment them on a job well done. Be sure to let your employees know that you appreciate their efforts. Praise them for their success, and don’t be afraid to do so in a public way (unless, of course, your employee is introverted and might not appreciate it).


10. Take responsibility for failure

Managers that work for companies that have great cultures understand they are responsible for the team’s successes and failures if for no other reason than they’re overseeing the people who get things done. When bad things happen — let’s say you lose a client because an account is mismanaged — be quick to accept the blame. Your employees will certainly notice, and they’ll appreciate it. When you take responsibility for failure, your employees will be more engaged because they’ll know that you’re not trying to throw them under the bus.

In order to thrive over the long term, companies need to have strong organizational cultures. In this instance, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak.

Just because your company may have done things one way in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep doing things that way forever. If you want to improve your culture, you just need to be dedicated to doing so. Put in the time and make the right changes. You’ll appreciate the fruits of your labor.



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