By: Caitland Conley
It’s a popular buzzword these days, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when corporate culture became so important in the modern workforce. Corporate culture bleeds into your organizational culture, and there are so many facets to corporate culture, like collaboration practices, digital capabilities, innovation activities, really everything that encompasses the organization itself and how workers and employees relate to each other.
Taking all of this into consideration, how do we define organizational culture?
Well, it’s more than free snacks and ping-pong tables at work, no matter how trendy your office is. It’s more than unlimited vacation policies. Even coworking spaces and self-made companies comprised of one person aren’t immune to the need to develop a strong, clearly delineated organizational culture.
After all, organizational culture is the set of guiding principles your company lives and breathes day after day. If you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, this will reflect not only in your talent pool, but in the way conflict and growth is handled in your workplace.
At Guidespark, we provide a unique solution that drives organizational change using personalized communication experiences to connect with and communicate more effectively with people. We ask questions like: “How do human beings organize themselves at work? How do we optimize company culture for different communication styles, opposite personalities, types of learning, and productivity peaks?”
Answering these questions internally is like cracking a code. You come to recognize who shines and who struggles. You’ll figure out gaps in your knowledge and discover the tools to become smarter in the face of organizational change.
The way you present your company to the world will become crystal clear once you have words and processes to describe your company culture, core values, and communication style. Whether you describe your company as risk-taking or conservative, out of touch or plugged into the latest trends, what matters most is how effectively you tell that story both internally and externally.
In this handy guide, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of organizational culture, from a clear-cut dictionary definition to how to identify your company’s culture. Finally, if there are elements in your culture you’re dying to improve, we’ll give you employee engagement solutions and insights on ways to make that happen.
What Is Organizational Culture?
Organizational culture is best defined as the customs, values, and interaction practices that coalesce within an organization over time. Culture is a current rippling through your methods of communicating, from email, Slack, face-to-face meetings, and beyond. It’s also not a secret that changing your company’s organizational culture can be a difficult task.
The way we communicate at work is changing. Historically, we’re communicating on more channels than ever before in recorded human history. We send hundreds of emails per day. We’re constantly “on” and reachable via the smartphones in our pockets, never far from reach. At work itself, the lunch break gets shorter and shorter. The “sad desk lunch” reigns supreme. For many Americans, this is simply what the work world looks like.
For freelancers and remote workers, they too are discovering the culture of their organizations. The emergence of remote organizational culture is one of the biggest challenges facing globalized businesses today. How can you trust someone is doing their work from hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Remote workers send emails at midnight, wake up early mornings to write quietly, or run an afternoon of errands to work well into the evening hours. The blurring of organizational boundaries is part of why culture is ever important.
Organizational culture also extends to your methods of community, like team building, company activities, and the perks and benefits you provide to your teams. Things like maternity and paternity leave—those say something about what you stand for. It’s important for companies to understand that culture isn’t an add-on or an optional process. It should be carefully created to communicate your company values.
Unlimited vacation. 401k matching. Weekly newsletters and company wide memos. Volunteer opportunities and child care. These programs are also representative of your culture, a symbiotic commitment to hiring and retaining the best possible talent.
What Does Organizational Culture Mean For Your Day-to-Day?
The characteristics of organizational culture in a day-to-day sense can be as small as what time you log on in the morning or as big as how you handle staff changes and new employee onboarding.
Are people answering emails at night from home? Do they feel like they’re being watched as they clock in? Is their manager flexible if they need to take their children to the doctor or drop a little one off at school?
Organizational behavior also boils down to the way people get work done. Is your company meeting-intensive, where the bulk of the “deep work” is done before or after 9-5? Are your executives constantly stretched thin, and associates getting passed over for promotions or leaving the company within a year? All of these factors and more are indicators of a certain type of company culture.
This doesn’t necessarily mean there is a right and wrong type of corporate culture; so much of what is acceptable depends on the kind of environment executives wish to cultivate. However, some things are never okay, such as harassment, abuse, bullying, or gaslighting employees. A hostile work environment is the direct result of cultural misalignment and being unclear on your company’s core values and value proposition.
Streamline your culture through core values communication so that everyone understands company goals for the year, compensation programs, and available benefits. Everyone should have a manager and that manager should report to someone, as well. Weekly one-on-one meetings where you outline your tasks, successes, and challenges alike should be valued and rescheduled with care.
For many employees, a boss that’s too busy is just as harmful as a micromanager because they’ll begin to see their role as limited and interchangeable, insignificant in the larger scheme of their boss’ packed days.
Within your company culture, there will exist organizational behaviors, subcultures, and ecosystems that naturally develop when you set up teams. Anthropologically, when groups sit close to one another or share an office space, they develop their own rituals, habits, and cultures. This might include gift exchanges during the holidays, or team dinners. It could also be virtual, like dedicated Slack channels or other digital communication that build up your work “community.”
These groups can evolve naturally without the interference of anyone other than the sub-community that developed. We frequently underestimate the power that talking to the same people every day can hold, and the modern workplace is a great example of that.
Identifying Your Company Culture
Surveys are often conducted internally by companies to track their perception of the company culture versus how employees feel about what is offered. For example, a company could provide a fantastic vacation policy, but if the work environment is too stressful to take time off, then employees may be suffering from burnout, or too afraid to miss a day of work.
Another way to identify culture is to develop quarterly and annual governance and programming to quantify the employee experience. Reviews and goal-setting offer employees a chance to grow and brainstorm outside of their current roles, to imagine the trajectory of their career in a meaningful, personalized way.
The last way that people want to be treated is like a small fish in a big pond, a cog in a machine, at least in American work culture, where individuality and innovation is encouraged. The characteristics of organizational culture regularly shift and evolve with cultural norms.
For example, paid leave policies and flexible scheduling are huge draws for attracting prospective employees. Companies that invest in child care programming are perceived as a cut above the rest. When a company values the same things you, as an employee, value, it makes it easier to invest in the mission behind the work.
But culture comes down to more than just benefits. Understanding the way individuals in your company succeed and which structural style your organization adopted is important. Some companies are laid out in a hierarchical structure, where the pecking order is super clear and perhaps rigid. In a hierarchy, it’s clear to employees that abiding by the hierarchy and respecting order is the best way to move up. In a hierarchical structure, something risk-taking at work isn’t valued or viewed as respectful, so it’s important to identify the way your company ticks before sending a company-wide email with a big idea, or coming forward with solutions at a team meeting. When you understand how structure plays into culture, you’ll be better equipped to understand yourself in your new environment.
In contrast, some company cultures are more of a meritocracy; a good idea is rewarded with specific benefits, verbal or group-centered recognition, or an accelerated upward trajectory. This is fairly individualized, and differs from organization to organization.
Performance setting is a documented, written plan that clearly delineates when an employee isn’t meeting expectations, and is more reliable and unbiased than relying on emails or the point-of-view of a manager, who could easily become disgruntled or annoyed if they’re dealing with an employee who doesn’t meet their goals.
If an employee doesn’t hit their quarterly or annual goals, then performance plans and managerial oversight can steer that employee, mentor them, and hopefully affect positive change.
It’s important to understand that organizational culture is a permeable, ever-evolving part of your workplace. Organizational change isn’t easy. There’s no utopian ideal, no perfect “fit” for everyone. You can’t make everyone happy at all times, and part of identifying the corporate culture that works for you is to understand that you’re not for everyone. Whether you’re a startup or a decades-old agency, a hospital or a university, you’ll change, evolve, and iterate over time.
How Can You Improve?
If you’ve discovered that your organizational culture is lacking something, or you’re struggling to implement policies and governance in your corporate setting, it could be because the culture created isn’t agile enough to change and evolve with the needs of employees.
Or, it could be there were pre-existing holes in your organizational structure—for example, a missing piece in human resources—that you need to patch up in order to achieve meaningful decision making in your organization.
Survey data is a great way to discover holes in your organizational culture. For example, if your workforce self-identifies as “disengaged” or distracted, then you can take steps to engage them in corporate-oriented strategy sessions, implementing and educating on employee benefit software, and creating rewards to energize employees.
In the age of regular job hopping, regular layoffs and restructuring in media and other industries, and the rapidly increasing percentage of remote and freelance workers globalizing companies, it’s clear that employee experience is growing even more important than ever before. Reading up on the landscape of employee experience and knowing the latest in the field is a must.
Cultural change is never easy, but improving the day-to-day of employees is a critical retention technique that can yield immensely positive benefits for your organization.
So you’ve got this great corporate culture identified and adopted throughout your organization. Good for you, whether you’re the exec who signed off on implementing culture-oriented policies or the team member charged with the day-to-day.
Once your culture is identified, we’ve developed core value communication journeys to help your organization align on topics like mission and vision, unconscious biases at work, and more.
GuideSpark case studies illustrate what we’ve done for a wide variety of organizations, from 1,000 employee companies to global enterprises of 14,000 and beyond.
With clear communication platforms intact, it should be easier to communicate with every team member as they’re onboarded into the company, roll out new benefits and programs effortlessly, and stay aligned with the values your organization prioritizes and stands behind.
With employee communication streamlined, there won’t be any disconnect between executive decisions and the why behind them. This motivates your workforce to feel included in the organizational mission, rather than simply a worker bee.
We’re committed to streamlining your cultural processes and making it happen for your organization with a mix of tools, technology, and our helpful tips. Because water cooler talk about how great the employee wellness programs or benefits are should be a normal occurrence at your organization.
When you take an employee-centered approach to building your organizational culture, are open and agile in the face of change, and willing to try new solutions, you’ll see meaningful change starts to occur. Of course, we’re always here to answer your questions about what you should be offering employees today.