Why is culture in the workplace important?

The answer to that can be found in the definition of what culture is: Culture can be defined as the set of behaviors, values and rituals that make up your organization. You can “feel” culture when you visit a company, because it is often evident in people’s behavior, enthusiasm and the space itself. It’s the energy that you feel when you visit or work for an organization.

One of the most popular contemporary business terms is “employee engagement.” In a 2015 Gallup poll, it was found that the average percentage of employees who were actively engaged in their organization averaged only 32 percent. The majority (50.8 percent) of employees were “not engaged,” while another 17.2 percent were “actively disengaged.” The 2015 averages are largely on par with the 2014 averages and reflect little improvement in employee engagement over the past year.

Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss work days and drive customers away.

Culture is a direct contributor to employee engagement. Clearly. A new employee decides within three weeks of their start date whether they want to stay with your organization or if they know they are going to move on. Managers and HR teams need to think about the “total employee experience” beginning the moment they extend an offer. Everything from the coffee in the coffee machine to the quality of management plays a role. That employee is making the decision from the moment they touch the handle of the employee entrance: If the cultural fit is missing, employees can become disengaged and dissatisfied before they have sunk their teeth into any significant work.

Why is a stated set of cultural values necessary?

Overall, yes, it’s a nice thing to have them in an employee handbook, or even stated on an application, job advertisements or promotional pieces. By having them outlined or promoted, it gives all team members, and potential team members, an opportunity to align to the organizational values. Part of the interview process is getting to know your potential teammates and deciphering whether their values align with your organization’s values.

An important note: If you write out your values, it doesn’t magically make everyone have those values. Values are most impactful when they are demonstrated and lived out by company leaders.

What culture initiatives make a difference?

Any culture initiative that brings people together to share ideas, to celebrate, to inform, to engage or to simply be a part of a company event makes a huge difference. You may not see it instantaneously, but over time, the more you get people involved and ask for their participation, the more they want to contribute to the culture of their workplace. A great culture includes great people leading the way, so any time you can engage the leadership team to submerge themselves into an initiative, the more others will desire to be a part of that initiative and follow the lead. Leadership involvement is absolutely necessary in order for a culture to really flourish and provide an environment of positivity, creativity and fulfillment.

How do you build or shift culture?

Culture is something that is slow to change. Don’t expect it to change overnight. I believe the first step is recognizing what your company culture is and taking a very honest look at it. My mentor Dan Gordon (senior human resource manager, LM Wind Power) taught me that if I want to know what a company’s culture really is, go to the lowest person on the organization chart and ask them what they like or don’t like about their organization. Be willing to ask for a neutral third party to do this and be willing to take the results. After this, gather information from cross-functional stakeholders, both formal and informal leaders of your organization, and get their ideas on what changes they would like to see.

When you establish the culture that you want to have, then make it happen. Evaluate yourself and your staff, and have honest conversations with those that will be champions for your company culture. Gain alignment through these conversations. Make changes in leadership if necessary.

The second step is to promote your culture. Promote through advertising your team as individuals and as a company. Use all of your available resources including social media. Promote your team, promote individual accomplishments, promote your company. This is not simply a cost, it’s an investment.

How do you develop a culture that fits several generations of employees?

Keep communication channels open, be transparent with what you are doing, where you are heading, the wins, the opportunities. Keep in constant communication with your team to let them know that they are part of the culture. Let them know that you value them and demonstrate it by letting them know of all the wins and of all the opportunities that may have been missed – but keep in front of them.

This interview was published in the August 2016 issue of Prairie Business Magazine