The demand for healthy organizational culture isn’t just a trend that will pass. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, employee expectations had intensified. Employees wanted their employers to make a more genuine commitment to diversity, inclusion and well-being. And they expected more authenticity, transparency, greater schedule flexibility and more growth opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic and a global uprising against racial injustice only accelerated these expectations. The pandemic caused nearly two-thirds of employees to reflect on their life’s purpose and what’s worth prioritizing. As a result, today’s employees aren’t willing to work for companies that don’t treat their employees or their communities well. And they’re leaving unfulfilling jobs.
Improving organizational culture is a long-term investment. Companies can’t roll out a few culture initiatives and call it done. Organizational culture is fluid and changes frequently. We recommend routinely taking these five steps to improve organizational culture:
1. Start with purpose, mission and values
A company should align its organizational culture with its values and purpose or mission. Purpose, mission and values create a powerful framework for nurturing a culture that supports both the business and its employees. Building a purpose-driven organizational culture starts with reflection. Companies must recommit to or shift purpose and values in a way that better aligns with employee expectations and the company’s reason for being.
As an example, let’s consider a health care technology company with a mission to make health care more accessible to rural communities through innovative consumer products. The culture at this organization must inspire creativity and empower employees to take risks without fear of negative consequences.
An organization’s purpose must be well-understood and communicated. This clarity is essential to strong organizational culture because it helps employees understand how their day-to-day work supports a larger, more meaningful contribution to society.
It also helps organizations:
- Attract employees who believe in the company’s purpose or mission
- Engage and motivate employees
- Differentiate themselves from competitors
- Provide clarity on employee expectations
2. Evaluate existing culture
Companies need to understand their strengths and weaknesses to identify areas for organizational culture improvement. There are a variety of ways to evaluate the current culture, including:
- Evaluating cross-functional metrics like absenteeism, PTO and sick time usage, realization reporting, and recruitment and retention metrics. Learning how to read these numbers can help organizations identify issues often caused by unhealthy organizational culture. These issues could include burn-out, low employee engagement, decreasing tenure length and difficulty filling open positions.
- Surveying employees. Organizations can better understand how employees are feeling and where they need to support them by listening. There are a variety of survey methods companies can use like engagement studies, pulse surveys and eNPS®.
- Looking at external indicators. Employee review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed give former and current employees a platform to share honest feedback about organizations. These can be powerful sources of information that uncover insights about the culture that employee reviews or exit interviews didn’t reveal.
3. Align leadership and communication
A strong organizational culture calls for accessible, authentic, open and transparent leaders who have strong communication and listening skills. Employees want accessible and authentic leadership that asks for their feedback and considers it when making business decisions. An honest back-and-forth dialogue between leaders and employees is crucial to culture because it builds a foundation of trust and contributes to strong working relationships.
Two-way communication between employees and leadership encourages connection and engagement. Employees feel trusted when they’re asked to contribute, and they’re more likely to participate when they experience that leadership listens. Engaged employees are more invested in the organization’s success and are inspired to do their part.
Organizations that effectively leverage two-way communication channels create a feedback loop between employees and leadership, which enhances the employee experience and improves organizational culture.
4. Engage employees
Companies play a significant role in shaping organizational culture, but employees are ultimately responsible for bringing the culture to life. Engaging employees in improving organizational culture increases the likelihood of successful culture-shaping initiatives. Their involvement increases their willingness to participate with openness and positivity.
Managers and leaders should recognize and reward employees who embody the key elements of the organizational culture. This reinforcement helps the culture grow organically from within as employees shift their behavior to meet what’s being modeled, rewarded and recognized.
Involving employees in culture planning also helps leaders see the changes that are needed from an employee perspective. It uncovers gaps between promises made and the everyday experience.
5. Measure and plan for future initiatives
Ongoing measurement and benchmarking are essential for nurturing healthy organizational culture over time. Companies should continue to use the assessment methods outlined in step three to keep tabs on the health of the organization’s culture and identify opportunities for improvement.
An organization’s culture evolves continually as employees and the marketplace change. Culture work doesn’t end when one initiative is complete. Organizational culture is built and nurtured over time, with purpose, mission and values always at the center.
Culture initiatives are significant and complex. Companies that make them a priority and take steps to improve organizational culture will reap the rewards of healthy organizational culture.