A winning leaders guide to building organizational culture

Colleagues gathered together smiling and collaborating because they know how to build organizational culture

Culture can be difficult to define, but in many ways, this is due to its pervasive nature. Asking people to describe culture is like asking a fish what it thinks about water - it's the medium we move through on a daily basis, and so it's often taken as a given. But in the uncertain times we live in, the advantages shared by organizations with a strong organizational culture are too great to ignore. From retention to financial performance, companies with a strong culture outperform those with a weak culture on almost every measure1. If you want to improve your current culture at work, the time for zooming out and thinking big is now. In this article, we'll share our tips for building a strong organizational culture, as well as sharing F4S's unique approach to culture building.

Table of contents
What are the 3 major elements of organizational culture?
Why organizational culture matters
9 steps to create your winning organizational culture
A positive culture doesn’t just happen—it’s honed

What are the 3 major elements of organizational culture?

So, what is organizational culture?

Like any culture, organizational culture embodies the behavioral norms, values, customs, rituals, and beliefs that are shared among employees and upper management of a given organization.8

“Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as ‘glue’ to integrate the members of the organization.” - Richard Perrin.

It includes:

  1. Vision and values

To build a healthy team culture, it’s necessary to share strong core values and a common vision. While having a diverse set of values is also needed, shared core values that each member of an organization holds dear are crucial for developing a strong company culture.

Let’s say there’s a health tech startup with the core value of empowering individuals to take charge of their health. In a healthy organizational culture, each member of the company will hold this value closely but will have their own individual set of values that are specific to their role.

For instance, the CFO may value growth and progression, whereas the customer success manager values human connection, but both pursue their individual values in service of the core value of promoting health and wellbeing.

  1. Communication & collaboration

The way we speak, and work with one another is also a key aspect of organizational culture. In fact, this is likely one of the most immediately obvious markers of company culture. A collaborative and positive company culture will be reflected in the communication styles of team members. In friendly, warm, and informal company cultures, employees may be more comfortable expressing themselves with affective communication, whereas in more formal or traditional workplaces, neutral communication may be more common.

  1. Leadership

In many ways, it's a leader's role to shape company culture, and strong leadership will take a proactive stance in encouraging employees to participate in it.

Leadership styles also play a significant role in shaping the employees' experience, and the culture itself. Some companies have a coaching culture, where it's the role of a leader to coach employees to perform at their best. In less fortunate cases, ineffective leadership is often at the root of toxic workplace cultures2.

Why organizational culture matters

Whether culture is consciously built or arises organically, organizational culture affects every aspect of your company. From the way you work with each other, to how you work with clients -  culture pervades the how, why, and what of everything you do.

Having a positive culture that's closely aligned with your mission is, therefore, crucial to achieving what you're organization is striving for. Here's how culture can affect your organization.

Productivity and engagement

It's no secret that positive company culture leads to more productive and engaged employees, and it's easy to see why. Employees who are happy and well will naturally perform better. Countless studies have also backed up the already intuitive notion that a strong organizational culture leads to higher levels of productivity and employee engagement3.

Job satisfaction

A well-developed and positive workplace culture places a strong priority on recognizing employee contributions and rewarding effort and ingenuity. This is especially the case for employees who are strongly motivated by achievement. For this reason, a strong organizational culture will naturally lead to job satisfaction. An observational study of front-line workers showed that even in a highly pressured and stressful hospital environment, a strong organizational culture created a more positive work environment, and increased levels of employee satisfaction4.

Employee retention

There's no great mystery as to why companies with a strong corporate culture find it easier to retain employees. If employees enjoy a positive environment with a culture of respect, they're less likely to look for work elsewhere. In fact, Forbes magazine went so far as to declare that the best employee retention strategy was building a strong company culture5.

Talent attraction

According to a survey by Glassdoor, 86% of job seekers research company reviews to decide on whether or not to apply for a job.6 Further, 92% of salaried employees would consider changing jobs if offered a role with a company with excellent employee reviews, at no additional salary increase.

In other words, if you can garner a positive reputation through building a great organizational culture, it will be easier to attract top talent.

9 steps to create your winning organizational culture

It might seem that organizational culture is simply the product of current employee and leadership traits. While this may be true to an extent, that doesn't mean that culture can't be shaped, sometimes completely transformed, with the right tools and know-how.

If you want an example of how this is possible, you can read more about our executive coaching management program with Canva.

But for now, here are our tips for changing organizational culture, from the ground up.

  1. Clarify your business goals

It's important to remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" company culture. It's all about whether or not company culture is aligned with your business goals. For instance, building a culture that prizes innovation and expression may be just right for a SaaS startup, but less so for a military regiment.

Defining your ideal culture, therefore, should start with getting really clear about what you're trying to achieve. The question you need to ask yourself is, what kind of culture will get you there?

With your goals clearly in mind, you've completed the first step toward envisioning your company culture.

  1. Envision your ideal company culture

With a clear sense of your "why", your culture can be thought of as your "how". These are the cultural values and expectations for employee behavior that will shape "how" you reach your company goals. But before you set out to make changes, it's important to paint a picture of what you want your company culture to be. So, now is the time to ask yourself:

What do you want your company to look like?

Do you want to build an inclusive culture where all voices are heard?

A culture of innovation where bold ideas and out-of-the-box thinking are rewarded?

What does a company culture that supports your business goals look like?

To take it one step further, F4S can produce a Culture Map for your organization. The Culture Map report provides evidence-based insights on team bonding, even for globally distributed teams with different cultures. The report highlights areas holding your team back and advises which coaching programs will increase team performance.

  1. Define your vision and values

Next, you'll want to define your company's vision and values. As important as this step is, it comes with an important caveat.

Rather than the leadership team devising these values, it's important to work with your employees to develop them, together. The irony of leadership proclaiming that there will be a collaborative company culture, without first engaging employees, will not be lost on anyone to whom these values are prescribed. Remember that building culture is a bottom-up collective effort that comes from the entire team, not something management alone can dictate.

Giving employees a say in what they want the culture to be will give them a sense of ownership over the values they come up with, and thus, more incentive to take them seriously and leverage them to improve performance.

  1. Commit it to writing

With your business goals, senior management, and employee perspectives in mind, it's time to put it into writing.

Develop a clear statement on what you want the culture to be. Specify company values, standards of acceptable behavior,  or more generally, a sense of what you want the employee experience to feel like.

This can be in the form of a cultural mission statement, manifesto, or any other creative ways to enshrine the vision for your company culture.

  1. Prioritize professional development

A strong culture also needs to be one where employees can always see progression and growth on the horizon. Without opportunities for growth, the culture becomes stagnant and unchanging. Leadership training and professional growth options give employees the sense that anything is possible, leading to higher levels of employee engagement and motivation.

This sense of optimism will bleed into the culture, and your organization will benefit from it.

  1. Establish rituals

The word ‘ritual’ might feel out of place in the modern workplace, but stripped of some of its religious connotations, workplace rituals play an important role in binding members of an organization together.

To understand why ritual is an important part of organizational culture, consider the role they play, traditionally. Research has shown that rituals or cultural rites help to reduce communal anxiety, foster a sense of belonging, and galvanize individuals around a common cause7 - all essential factors for organizational success. But workplace rituals don’t need to be elaborate affairs;  weekly huddles or "Friyay drinks" (one of our many rituals at F4S) are enough to develop a sense of ritual that helps bring your team closer together.

  1. Leverage tools for speedy conflict resolution

So, you've got your ideal culture mapped out and your employees on board. You're set, right? Not quite. As long as people are people, team conflict will always be present. The key is to have the tools and know-how on hand to quickly stamp it out whenever it arises.

In many cases, conflict stems from a lack of understanding of the other party's motivations. A common conflict is for big-picture thinkers to butt heads with those who are more detail-orientated. Without clear data that maps out employees' workstyle motivations, diagnosing the issue can be challenging, and this is where F4S comes in.

By taking the free F4S assessment, we'll do a deep dive into your team's individual work style motivations and help you get to the root of conflict. In many cases, this increased understanding leads to a greater appreciation of the value of difference and prevents future conflict from taking place.

F4S team dashboard
  1. Conduct regular team health checks

Building a positive work culture is a great way to stave off work-related burnout and increase employee motivation, but even with this in place, team members will still sometimes struggle with their health and well-being.

Conducting regular team health checks is a great way to do this. Not only does it help employees better manage their health, but it also helps them feel supported, and that it's OK to sometimes struggle.

  1. Choose the right communication and collaboration tools to support your culture

You may not consider your communication tools as a part of your company culture, but the tools you use to communicate can go a long way in shaping and supporting the kind of culture you're trying to foster.

Take the following tools, for example:

Miro

Miro is a popular online collaborative whiteboarding platform that allows individuals and teams to work together visually, regardless of physical location. Think of it as a virtual whiteboard your team can use remotely, making brainstorming, planning, and crafting mind maps and flow charts easy. If you're a remote team trying to build a culture of collaboration, Miro can be a game-changer.

F4S for Zoom

If you use Zoom for video calls while working remotely or in a hybrid setting, you can improve your virtual collaboration with the F4S for Zoom integration. The app shows you how attendees prefer to make decisions during the call, so you can adapt your communication style to suit them and convince them faster.

Trello

Trello is a project management tool for organizing tasks and projects. Tasks and their statuses are represented by "boards," "lists," and "cards". Once tasks are completed, team members will update the appropriate cards, or add comments for clarification.

Trello allows teams to keep up with projects, and so if collaboration is key to your desired culture, Trello, or similar project management tools will be indispensable.

Asana

Similar to Trello, Asana is another project management tool used in teams where collaboration is key. While there are many similarities, Asana offers further breakdowns of tasks and is considered to be more suitable for more complex or multi-faceted projects.

Monday

Another project management tool, Monday is similar, but again, different, from Trello and Asana. While many of the differences are cosmetic, the platform has more automation for streamlining work processes.

Slack

Slack is a popular instant messaging and file-sharing platform designed for quick and seamless communication. It may not have all the same project management attributes as the tools above, but if quick, transparent and easy back-and-forth communication is prized in your organization, Slack is a must.

A positive culture doesn’t just happen—it’s honed

It's worth considering that the words 'culture' and 'cultivate; are closely related etymologically. They both stem from the Latin word "colere" which means to tend to or grow.8 Just as an unattended garden is more likely to sprout weeds than daffodils, it takes careful consideration and effort to cultivate a strong company culture.With the insights shared in this article, you'll be well on your way to building a healthy culture that serves your organizational goals. But if you really want to get the ball rolling, using the F4S suite of tools might just be the change you're looking for.

Ready to reimagine your organizational culture?

Knowing how to change organizational culture is important, but without evidence-based data on your current company culture, knowing which steps to take next can be challenging. That's where F4S comes in. With our culture map methodology, you can get a snapshot of your team's individual motivational traits and see how they overlap to create your team's culture. With a clear picture of what makes up your team culture, you're able to shape it for the better and harness it to reach your organization's goals.

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Show References
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1. Sorensen, (2002), The Strength of Corporate Culture and the Reliability of Firm Performance, Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2307/3094891

2. Wolor, C, (2022), Impact of Toxic Leadership on Employee Performance, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9760724/

3. Abane, J, (2022), Does organizational culture influence employee productivity at the local level?, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9449308/

4. Yafang, T, (2011),Relationship between Organizational Culture, Leadership Behavior and Job Satisfaction, Available at: https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6963-11-98

5. Glassdoor, (2021), 40+ Stats for companies to keep in mind in 2021, Available at: https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/resources/hr-and-recruiting-stats/#employer-branding-and-recruiting-hiring-and-retention%20(Talent%20attraction)

6. Randall, J, (2022), A strong company culture is the best retention strategy amid high turnover, Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbooksauthors/2022/03/24/a-strong-company-culture-is-the-best-retention-strategy-amid-high-turnover/?sh=56d707ef44f5

7. Gino, F, The Scientific American, (2013), Why rituals work, Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/

8. Pappas, S. and McKelvie, C. 2022. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/21478-what-is-culture-definition-of-culture.html

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