Culture is a Team Sport: How Everyone Can Help Build a Positive Workplace Culture

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Company culture makes a lot of headlines as a leadership issue.

“If my CEO would only prioritize culture during the next all-hands meeting, the problem of company culture would be solved once and for all,” the story goes.

But while the CEO’s role in creating a positive workplace culture is important (and we’ll get to that shortly), this top-down approach to defining and implementing culture is just about as wrong as it gets.

First, company culture isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity. Second, workplace culture is shaped by every single department within a company, if not every single person. It’s not a book of onboarding rules or a list of core values. It’s the attitude and beliefs that come from how your company lives out its mission statement and core values. It’s made up of pieces of your entire company, and that’s why every department plays a part in bringing it to life.
“Culture is not a ‘goal’ to be mandated, but the outcome of a collective set of behaviors,” says author and business leader Ron Ashkenas in his article for Harvard Business Review. And that’s our jumping off point for today’s article. Here’s a look at how each department within a company impacts the overall company culture and how you can encourage them to make the most of the opportunity:

CEOs and Leadership Teams

CEOs and executive boards make up the epicenter of company culture. First and foremost, a CEO leads by example with their own behavior. They have the power to lead companies to high performance and loyalty, or — as in cases like the Enron scandal — just the opposite.

The power of the CEO and the executive team is even more clear when you consider the cultures of companies with very different CEOs. For example, Mark Parker, CEO at Nike, says “[Nike has] a culture where we are incredibly self-critical, we don’t get comfortable with our success.” On the other hand, early on in Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership at Facebook he famously summarized the company’s motto as “Move fast and break things. These opposite leadership styles — a focus on perfection and a focus on making mistakes on purpose — lead to completely different cultural environments.

Human Resources

Hiring managers directly shape company culture by setting hiring standards and recruiting accordingly. However, without a clear company culture compass, recruiters may hire raw talent, but it will be raw talent that may not function well within the current culture.

Once employees enter a company, individual human resource managers become the storytellers for the state of the culture. They can advocate for and shepherd change, or keep a company tied to traditional, outdated policies.

Human resources professionals who manage the day to day of a company also heavily impact culture because they are the primary enforcers of it. Within a few weeks of a new job, employees pick up on whether or not the HR team truly welcomes feedback, maintains an “open door” policy,  or whatever else your team claims to live by.

For some human resource departments, culture is so important that it becomes a value in itself. Consider HubSpot’s culture code, “Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing,” and how the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, “[believes] that it’s really important to… hire and fire based on [your core values]. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”

Management

From a leadership perspective, managers make up the front line of an organization’s company culture. They interact with, train, and support employees at all stages. They deliver bad news and good news, reinforce old policies, and introduce new ones. The best managers feel ownership over the company culture and express it naturally. The worst managers don’t understand the company culture (or worse, actively don’t like it) and can spread negativity to their teams.

It’s vital that managers understand the potential they have for impacting company culture. For example, Wegman’s grocery chain believes in employee autonomy. Employees receive 40 hours of training before they take their first shift so that they can solve problems without a manager from the get-go. Managers that don’t support this behavior — that micromanage or don’t empower employees to do their best — would be working to sabotage this company culture.

Marketing, PR, and Communications

Your organization’s marketing, PR, and communications teams have a lot of power over how your company is perceived from the outside. It should be no surprise that these communications also affect how your company is perceived from the inside. The very things that attract prospective customers to your brand — such as a cutting edge software or a first-in-class product — will also attract prospective employees.

One company doing a great job of marketing for business and recruiting is Influence & Co. In a Forbes article, CEO John Hall writes that they use content marketing (their core business) to attract the right employees, writing dozens of articles about their company culture, values, and opinions on how teams should function. The result is an uncanny ability to attract new employees who are already on board with the company’s approach to culture.

Culture Teams/Committees

Culture teams and Chief Culture Officers take many shapes and forms. Depending on the organization, this may be a dedicated team, an outsourced partner, or a volunteer subset of your HR team. Whichever setup you have, this team sets the agenda for how, why, and where your company culture is headed. It’s vital that this team approaches the company with an attitude and messaging that resonates, and that its initiatives are carefully planned to be embraced by (not forced upon) employees.

If you have big dreams for big culture initiatives but you don’t have the big, dedicated budget to go with it, don’t worry. Your culture team doesn’t have to be an official entity within your organization. Small changes from each department within your organization — from a CEO like USAA’s Joe Rubles who calls himself the chief culture officer to a Warby Parker’s makeshift community team that plans and promotes events — there are a million and one ways you can refine your company culture without hiring a dedicated staff.

“I used to believe that culture was ‘soft,’ and had little bearing on our bottom line,” says Vern Dosch, the author of Wired Differently. “What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.”

 

We couldn’t agree more. Company culture isn’t a soft topic, and it isn’t an isolated objective of one department or one person within a company. It’s a universal, indispensable part of what makes your company perform its best — or not. Help every department within your organization understand how it contributes to the company culture so that every person has a powerful, positive impact.

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