A healthy, vibrant corporate culture is vital for success in business, yet fostering that sort of atmosphere isn't easy. It can't simply be mandated by C-level executives, or dreamed up in a focus group. True corporate culture develops organically – it's the sum total of the practices, beliefs and values of everyone who works at a firm.
Given that kind of size and scope, it's natural to wonder how culture can be effectively changed. After all, altering the behavior and values of hundreds or thousands of people seems an almost insurmountable task. Yet the attitudes of a handful of people, or the adoption of forward-looking practices by management, are often enough to make enduring changes.
In many ways, it's a top down process; employees take their cues from management. If a company's executives are hypercompetitive and work tirelessly, you can be certain that attitude will filter down the ranks. In fact, a single executive can dictate company culture – think Steve Jobs at Apple. Jobs prized design and aesthetics above nearly everything else. The culture at Apple reflected that devotion – and it's still there today, years after Jobs' death.
While cultural change may not happen overnight, smart management practices, such as those learned while earning an MBA with an HR concentration, can deliver quick and effective results.
With that in mind, let's examine three key ways to cultivate a thriving corporate culture.
Promote Diversity in the Workforce
There are many benefits of diversity in the workplace. Companies that make this a priority are rewarded with added market share – diversity often serves as an economic driver, helping firms become more profitable. By hiring people with a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds, companies can tap this knowledge to market products far more effectively.
The value of diversity isn't wholly tied to economics, however, it also promotes a culture of creativity and innovation. A Forbes survey of 321 companies with annual revenue of at least $500 million showed 85% of such businesses said diversity is a key innovation driver. That's hugely important, because in today's economy, firms that aren’t consistently and continuously driving innovation place their continued viability at risk.
Creating a diverse workforce and promoting inclusive behavior are absolutely vital practices for a healthy corporate culture. By doing so, businesses can significantly reduce turnover – while creating a welcoming environment where employees are inspired to do their best work.
Practice Smart Conflict Resolution
Even a diverse and highly-skilled group of employees will end up in conflict on occasion. If these issues are handled adeptly, such differences can be ironed out and harmony will reign. Without a well-executed conflict resolution strategy, a company's culture may suffer serious disruption. Employees in conflict are rarely happy workers, and this dissatisfaction can easily drift into the larger corporate culture.
Businesses seeking to reduce conflict should make an effort to reduce ambiguity. When workers are given unclear or vague instructions, mistakes often follow. Without clear guidance, employees must fill in the gaps. This ambiguity can create disputes between even the most collegial and capable colleagues.
To reduce ambiguity, it’s vital to implement standard operating policies and procedures (SOPs) – and give clear direction when asked about even seemingly trivial operations. Whenever possible, put things in writing rather than through verbal communication. Miscommunication is often the culprit behind inter-office dustups. While two parties may remember a conversation in very different ways, the written word never forgets.
Take Advantage of the Benefits of Team Building
Team building often gets a bad reputation and it's true that "trust falls" and other bonding exercises are certainly easy enough to poke fun at. Yet there's something to be said for bonding with coworkers outside the shared work environment. When employees step outside their traditional office setting or work roles, they find out new and novel information about each other. They strengthen existing bonds and form new connections. Deepening these connections is an absolutely worthwhile endeavor.
In the military it's often said that soldiers fight for each other. In sports we often hear that teammates want to win for each other. The workplace is no different. When employees connect on a deeper level, they're willing to extend themselves to help colleagues. This behavior creates a cohesive, high-functioning office culture. It encourages collaboration, which is the lifeblood of innovation. It also helps mitigate any conflicts that may arise.
A poor corporate culture isn't just bad for business, it often signals serious problems with a company's practices and leadership. Yet the remedy to this problem isn't complex or expensive. Companies should:
- Promote a vibrant and diverse workforce
- Create a fair and consistent conflict resolution process
- Instill a spirit of teamwork and cooperation among workers
By doing all of the above, businesses can vastly improve their corporate culture and their prospects for continued success.