The Ins and Outs of Organizational Culture

10 min read
Dec 17, 2015


The_Ins_and_Outs_of_Organizational_Culture_1Culture exists in every organization: sometimes it's actively maintained, while other times it's just left up to chance. It has the power to shape the way companies operate and how employees feel at work. So much so that our Employee Engagement Report discovered that culture is one of the top correlated factors to workplace happiness.

And what was the most common theme that popped up in Glassdoor's list of 2016 Best Places to Work? Culture. These companies have invested in their employees to keep them engaged, and they’re reaping the benefits for their bottom line. When organizations are willing to build a strong culture, then employees are more than willing to go the extra mile.

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Signs of a Toxic Culture


A toxic organizational culture is nothing but bad news. Especially in an already stress-inducing environment, a negative workplace is the last thing employees need in their lives. Here’s how to tell if your company has a toxic culture:

1. "Bully" and "boss" have the same meaning

Do managers hover over their employee’s shoulder? Or maybe they publicly shame their subordinates. A bully-boss puts more effort into making people feel devalued than appreciated.

2. Recognition doesn't exist

High fives and awards are as real as fairy tales. No one gets acknowledged for a job well done, and employees are expected to just churn out work like cogs.

3. Rules are always broken

Consistency is the key to an aligned culture. But that can’t happen if managers are giving other employees special privileges all the time (playing favorites much?).

4. Training and development are a maybe

It’s the blind leading the blind — managers are clueless, and employees are left to figure everything out on their own. There’s no formal training or developmental plan in place. 

5. Information hoarding

Management doesn’t tell anyone anything. And when they do, it’s only because they have to or it’s too late to resolve anything.

6. Colleagues are competitors

Employees go head-to-head instead of working side by side. Coworkers purposely sabotage their peers, retain information, or refuse to ask for help so they can come out on top.

7. Playing hide-and-seek with opportunities

Special projects are hidden from employees. And if they want to find out promotions, they have to jump through hoops to find out how or what’s available.

8. Meetings are silent

No one talks during meetings. Mainly because managers refuse to listen to their employees, and everyone’s scared to voice their opinions.

9. Creativity isn't embraced

Managers think they know best. They don’t believe their employees have any innovative ideas, so they don’t even bother to encourage creative thinking.

10. No place for fun

All work and no play. Employees are stuck to their desks, and managers don’t encourage their workers to get up or take a break.

Do any of these sound familiar? If they do, don’t fret just yet. Being aware is the first step to improvement. And obviously, the next is to take action and start making changes to create an employee culture — an organization that's focused on the people.


Why Invest in Your Workplace Culture

Culture is an investment … Companies have to pay to play. Are you still asking if it’s worth it? Turns out that miscommunication and lack of tools are the top drivers in decreasing productivity:


Companies that don’t place importance on culture perform worse than the ones that do. Without clear communication and camaraderie, work will never get done in a timely manner.

And don't forget — employees are looking for professional development in the workplace, especially millennials. Companies that make their employees’ career goals their own have the ability to spark creative ideas in their workers. A recent Gallup poll reveals this unexpected connection:

  • 58% who said their organization is committed to strength-building said their employer encourages new ideas that defy conventional wisdom

Gallup’s research brings to light the relationship between employee engagement and innovation. If companies want to be industry leaders, they need to first cultivate a culture that allows employees to thrive.

And whether someone’s been with a company for six months or six years, their departure negatively impacts an organization’s productivity. When managers are committed to maintaining a valued culture, their employees are going to follow suit. Try not to be too surprised by this survey’s results:

  • Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave

Here’s another way to put it: if a company had 100 people leave last year, they could have saved 87 of those employees if there was an engaging culture. Think about all the money that could have been saved on recruitment, hiring, and training by retaining those employees.

The benefits of a distinct organizational culture don’t just stop at employee happiness. If you want to increase financial returns, innovation, and retention, you need to invest in a company culture that revolves around its employees' engagement.


The Social Media Effect


Twitter, Facebook, Glassdoor. Look up any company on one of these sites and you’ll get a feel for their culture by glancing at the first page. Chock-full of feedback from employees and customers, these sites reveal the inner workings of your company. The wall between public and private information has grown thin, thanks to the Internet. So what’s written on the these sites will affect your company’s public reputation.

Potential employees

Sites like Glassdoor provide a clear view into any company. In order to attract top talent, companies want their culture to be appealing. However, good or bad reviews have the power to sway a potential candidate’s decision to send in their resume.

Potential customers

Facebook and Twitter put information at the world’s fingertips. These sites serve as a customer service platform, whether intentional or not. The way an employee treats customers is reflective of an organization’s culture.

Companies might think they can get away with carefully curated press releases about their “exciting” organizational culture. But the Internet has no filter. Culture is a tool to entice future employees and customers, so consider strengthening yours in order to attract the best talent and customer loyalty.


Building a Culture of Transparency


Many companies are still trying to figure out how to build a culture of transparency, but they don’t know where to start. Follow these three rules, and you’ll be able to bridge that gap in employee-manager relationships.

1. Hold all-hands meetings

Regardless of how big your company is, all-hands meetings are the key to transparency. Gathering employees into one room makes sharing information easier than sending out a company-wide email. When everyone’s on the same page, it prevents information from getting miscommunicated from one person to the other — the corporate telephone game.

Use these meetings to share financial updates, wins (losses, too!), and any company goals. Making leadership visible is a powerful message to employees. It shows that management is eager to share information and isn’t trying to build a fence around what employees should be told.

2. Use a virtual suggestion box

Every employee has something to say. More often than not, they’re hesitant to directly approach their manager about an issue, concern, or suggestion. To solve the problem: give them an anonymous virtual suggestion box.

Consider presenting these suggestions during meetings. Take this chance to deliberate as a group and vote on what action should be taken. It’ll show that managers are interested in sharing the feedback they’re getting and that they’re willing to hear their employees’ voices.

3. Let employees stay connected

Employees need a way to instantly connect with one another. Instant messaging or platforms that encourage collaboration allow employees to interact across teams, departments, or the whole company.

Basically, getting employees and managers to open up through communication streamlines the process of information sharing. People teach each other. They learn from each other. It provides insight as to how other departments operate, which breaks down cross-departmental animosity.

Trust can’t be built overnight. But instilling the three rules above are the first steps you should take to building a culture of transparency.


You Must Hire for Culture Fit

This can't be emphasized enough. Finding the right fit for your culture is like finding that elusive perfect pair of jeans. You try on 20 different pairs, but they’re either too loose, not the right cut, or some other odd reason — you just know they're not right. But when you do find that golden pair, you do whatever it takes to get it and hold onto it for as long as possible.

It’s the same process when it comes to hiring that perfect fit.

There's a shift in employee engagement: peers are playing a bigger role than expected. Which isn't surprising since we work with our colleagues day in and day out. Having a soul-sucking coworker will eventually drain every ounce of happiness from you.


So here are five strategies you can use to find that ideal employee:

1. Values-based interview questions

If one of your core values is “embrace change,” consider asking: “What do you do when your priorities change quickly?” These types of questions provide interviewers a consistent way to measure their candidates to see if they’re aligned with the culture.

2. Unconventional interviews

Face it, the majority of candidates aren’t going to truly be themselves during an interview. Step out of the enclosed room and take them out to lunch or invite them to a team outing. Doing this allows you to see if candidates are able to socialize naturally with their potential teammates. You’ll also be able to have real conversations as well.

3. Personal hobbies

What does this candidate like to do outside of work? If they’re the captain of a dodgeball team, it reveals their leadership and cooperative capabilities. These types of questions uncover a candidate’s personality, which plays a big part in determining their fit in the company.

4. Decision-making skills

Find out how a candidate would act in a certain situation or what actions they took in a past situation. Yes, an interviewer can analyze the situation. But they can also assess if the actions taken by this candidate are aligned with the company’s values.

5. Use their references

Coworkers and managers have personally worked with the candidate. They’ve seen them in various situations, are familiar with their work ethics, and know how they interact with others. A phone call with a reference can help a hiring manager make the final decision on fit.


Maintain Culture During Corporate Merges


Change happens all the time. And when it comes to any type of change, there are plenty of hurdles to jump over (or run into). So whether you’re the one calling the shots or the one conceding to someone else’s mandates on company policy, you have to keep culture in mind.

Two cultures coming together can either form one of two scenarios. It could be that both organizations have similar core values and mission that the merge happens seamlessly. Or it could be the opposite, where cultures collide and people butt heads. For the latter case, here are our suggestions for blending teams and making progress:

1. Prep them

Prepare the team beforehand by communicating who will be added to their teams and how you see them fitting together.

2. Welcome the dark overlords

Take the time to introduce the new execs — carefully, slowly, and with much respect. People will pick up on how you feel about the new people. A little genuine admiration and enthusiasm on your part can go a long way.

3. Give them a voice

Use internal surveys to anonymously take suggestions about how to smooth out the integration process. Use them also for taking the staff’s temperature. Remember, employee engagement and retention strategies need constant attention.

4. Introduce people individually

Rather than clapping your way through an all-hands meeting and leaving it at that, introduce individuals to individuals. Describe their backgrounds, their strengths, their roles. Show them the utmost respect, and they will respond.

5. Integrate

Send people from your team over to the new teams (and vice versa) to help out on their projects, even if only temporarily. They’ll come back as advocates.

6. Evangelize the vision

Express a few simple vision statements meant to guide the culture as a whole, and then let minor differences stand. The cultures will evolve together over time as long as there’s a simple, unified message they can all rally behind.

Transparent communication is the foundation for organizational culture. And merges can easily be the downfall of any company. So make sure to keep your employees in the loop before, during, and after the merge occurs to avoid cultural clash.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. 



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