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How to Create the Culture you Want

Creating a positive workplace culture is not just about dishing out higher salaries or bonuses and giving away free snacks. It’s about creating an environment in which employees feel that they are valued.

In the previous posts, I talked about how the true measure and definition of culture is what the people who work in the workplace actually experience on the ground, day to day, and whether the actual experience of the culture matches with the description of culture from the leadership.

In this post, I'm going to talk about what you can do to close the gap between how culture is described and how it is experienced, and how to make a lasting and effective culture change, regardless of your position. It all comes down to accountability.

Below are some tips for building in cultural accountability.

Only Promise What You Can Implement

For workplace leaders and those who define and set the culture, it's important to make sure that the policies and practices that are promoted as part of the culture are actually feasible to implement. For example, if you want to be a workplace that invests in employees’ professional development, you need to have resources and processes to make this happen. This can mean budgeting a certain amount for each person to attend conferences, bringing in outside experts to provide training to employees, or creating a forum for employees to deliver workshops and presentations to each other, just to give a few examples. But failure on part of the company to provide any formal structure to deliver on culture promises will make the whole notion of culture seem disingenuous, and result in distrust and low morale.

Build Culture Into Performance Expectations...for Everyone

To maintain a positive and healthy culture, everyone needs to trust that they are working in a fair and transparent system. To do this, the behaviors that exemplify the culture need to be included in all position descriptions and part of the performance review process for everyone, from the highest leadership on down. A surefire way to turn a workplace culture toxic is holding different people up to different standards, or even having the perception of doing so.

As John Amaechi said on a recent episode of Adam Grant's *Work Life* podcast, "culture is defined by the worst behavior tolerated." In order to have a positive and healthy culture, each individual needs to trust that everyone else is on board with the culture, and see that people whose behavior doesn't promote the culture will face appropriate consequences. For example, if a company holds itself up as having an inclusive culture, it can't overlook a CEO who had a habit of telling sexist jokes. The company would need to have mechanisms to make sure 1) people feel comfortable calling out bad behavior, 2) there is a process to help people atone for or improve their behavior, and 3) anyone who repeatedly fails to uphold company culture is fired.

Value Continuous Improvement

While the culture should make clear what practices and behaviors will and will not be tolerated in a workplace, a healthy culture is one that sets all employees up to succeed. This means starting with an open acknowledgment that no one is expected to be perfect and it's everyone's job to help everyone else to grow. Here are some examples of how to do this:

  • Encourage and empower everyone, regardless of their role, to provide and accept constructive feedback. This may mean offering regular training or resources on constructive feedback and ensuring that managers are regularly soliciting feedback from the people they supervise.

  • Avoid blaming or punishing people when errors occur. Treat mistakes as a learning experience and opportunity to teach new skills or emphasize accountability by collectively creating a plan to correct the issue and prevent it from happening again. Mistakes are just that, mistakes; they are not intentional and should not be used to hang over someone’s head. It’s likely that whoever made the mistake is already beating him/her-self up and won't benefit from the added blame.

  • Ensure managers make time for regular check-ins with supervisors and opportunities for peer feedback. Employees love to know when they’ve done something well or seek advice on how to improve.

Creating a positive office culture does not have to be expensive or complicated. By making small, concerted changes you can greatly improve employee engagement and the overall productivity of your business. Otherwise, change is impossible.

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