Earlier this year, Everwise hosted a popular webinar on “Building an Award-Winning Company Culture” delivered by Pamela Walshe. A foremost culture consultant and award-winning leader, Walshe specializes in building great company culture and managing organizations through change. She has also been an Everwise mentor for over two years, and offered to share her expertise with our community. Here are key takeaways from the webinar:
Benefits of Healthy Company Culture
There is a wealth of research coming out about company culture, examining everything from what a positive culture looks like to pinning down exactly what the ROI of spending resources on it is. Walshe explains that some companies make much more concerted efforts in this area, which leads to decisive success.
What does success look like? According to Walshe, companies with engaged employees outperform those without by 202%, and engaged employees who thrive leave their organization 59% less often. Considering the cost of filling a vacated position is about a year’s salary, engagement through culture can represent a significant bottom-line advantage.
The Process of Building Culture
Walshe breaks down the process of building company culture into three steps: Benchmark, Create, and Measure. Throughout each step, she shares it’s critical to have employee input. As Walshe says, “your specific employees hold the key to understanding how to unlock their best work.” An ongoing, honest dialogue will help yield the best results.
In the benchmarking phase, HR professionals should get a snapshot of how the organization is currently doing with respect to culture. Using people analytics, feedback systems, and interviews, one can gain a realistic assessment of the situation and identify areas for development. At this stage, finding areas of weakness should be a priority, because they represent the greatest opportunities to make a difference.
Next, move on to the creation phase. This phase involves designing strategies and changes that impact everyday work, while building upon the opportunities identified in the first phase. These changes should be implemented throughout the organization and introduced to employees thoughtfully.
Lastly, any responsible initiative should always be followed up with a measuring phase. It is vital for cultural efforts to examine where the changes were adopted and then consider how to maintain momentum going forward. Metrics for measuring success can be both employee-focused (such as satisfaction, engagement, attendance, retention, and performance) and business-focused (culture awards, employer ratings, recruiting costs, business performance).
Factors to Consider
Walshe illustrates several factors to consider when it comes to forming a successful company culture. While culture is unique to each organization, some impactful areas to begin evaluating include how professional growth takes place, how leadership happens, what the work environment is like, how people collaborate, and, of course, relationship-building factors and social hours.
In terms of professional growth, the traditional model of corporate ladder climbing has fallen out of favor. Organizations with robust company culture take a 360-growth approach to develop well-rounded employees who understand their organization deeply. Companies do this through professional development programs, which can incorporate mentoring, rotation programs, shadowing, leading projects, and so on.
Leadership style is another important aspect of culture. Employees should have a clear vision of where the company is going and the role they play in fulfilling that vision. This paves the way for them to be more empowered and embody the company’s vision in their work. People who feel their company has a direction and understand their role in that journey are more likely to be enthusiastic ambassadors.
The physical work environment can be an area for improvement right under your nose. Walshe offers the following examples she’s encountered: Maybe you have an open office plan, but find through your benchmarking efforts that employees would be well-served by designated quiet areas so they can focus. Perhaps you can seat people in cross-functional groups to improve collaboration, or provide dedicated project rooms.
When it comes to the way people work together, it depends heavily on each company’s needs. Walshe offered an example in which a company had two offices with radically different cultures: The New York office enjoyed working together in person, while the San Francisco office craved more flexible work time options and digital collaboration tools. One blanket culture wouldn’t please both, so the organization had to be adaptive and intelligent about their culture while still moving everyone towards a cohesive vision.
Entertainment factors like games and social hours can be great for morale, but mindfulness shouldn’t stop here. Helping employees work better does not always translate to putting up a ping pong table right next to a person’s desk. However, a social hour out of the office can be helpful for encouraging employees to connect across age groups. When it comes to games, she also points out that some games encourage competition rather than collaboration, or even highlight how disparities in workload between people can create resentment.
Before making any changes, Walshe advises to amplify and communicate very clearly about why you are doing so and what you are hoping to achieve. Taking the time to think modifications through and tie them to the company’s core values will ensure they are in fact aligning with the entire organization’s culture.
Moving Forward with Continuous Improvement
The roadmap for building company culture is one of continuous, cyclical improvement. The goal is to create ownership of company culture that is integrated and moves with your workforce. Each employee should understand the key components of their organization’s culture, take pride in it, and be able to both articulate and embody these cultural values in their own way. According to Walshe, everyone has a role in the success of their team’s culture, thus it is important to continue monitoring the employee experience, as well as developing HR processes, involving leadership, and so on.
Eventually you may also consider pursuing awards for your culture, as Walshe did for her organization. She admitted to being skeptical at first about the value of a company pursuing and receiving an award, but eventually found it to be extremely beneficial. Walshe found the process of applying for a company culture award to be enlightening. She also discovered that being recognized for an outstanding company culture benefits the employer brand. Setting the bar high gives an organization something to rally behind to make real change. It forces one to look at culture more mindfully and learn from others who are doing excellent work in this area. If you’re interested in working towards getting recognition for company culture, now is a great time to take the leap.
View a recording of the webinar here.