How do we rebuild our company culture?

It should be no surprise that leaders are concerned with rebuilding corporate cultures that have been roiled by remote working and high rates of employee turnover, and it’s a question we’re hearing often.

“Begin with the end in mind” is always good advice, and it’s particularly important for leaders who are embarking on the task of re-establishing their company’s culture. This is an opportunity for a re-set. It behooves leaders to consider what cultural attributes are essential for future growth, and focus on developing those, rather than simply attempting to re-create the company’s pre-pandemic culture.

Align company purpose and values statements with cultural aspirations 

The organisation’s purpose and values statements form guardrails for employees, providing direction for everything from individual behaviour to the overarching business strategy. As you form an approach to rebuild company culture, it’s important first to ensure the organisation’s purpose and values align with your future objectives.

A values statement outlines the ethical and moral principles that act as a compass for the organisation. Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of Gitlab (the world’s largest all-remote company), says communicating and upholding your company values is one of the most important things you can do to build a positive company culture.

The purpose statement is written for your employees: they are the primary audience. It’s intended to clearly communicate to your team what your company does and why, but also details the transformation you’re trying to create, and provides a structure that will inspire your team to align their daily activities with your company’s larger aspirations. In short: a purpose statement reminds your employees why their work matters – to your company, to your customers, and to the world.

We’ve developed two on-demand surveys relating to purpose: one titled “Defining Purpose” for creating a new company purpose statement from scratch, and another titled “Purpose Check In” designed to asses whether employees still connect with the organisation’s purpose.

Identify attributes that will future-proof your company – and involve employees

Bearing in mind that you’re not starting from zero, it’s helpful to think in terms of guiding the evolution of the company culture, rather than attempting to replace existing culture in one fell swoop.

That latter approach is destined to fail, because culture, at its core, is predicated upon which behaviours within an organisation are rewarded, and which are punished. It is learned, and in many cases, may be a habit. It’s not something that can change overnight.

A smart approach to building company culture is outlined by Indie Sherman, a vice president of organisational development for a logistics company, in her recent article for SHRM:

“Start from a place of empathy. Get feedback and input from staff to generate better ideas and increase buy-in. A simple thing to do, but big on value. And while we’re at it, culture is not built top-down; it’s the other way around. Senior leadership may express the culture they want, but keep in mind there’s already a culture there. It may not be the desired one, but getting that buy-in on how it should be, must come from the entire team. There isn’t anything worse than trying to implement an initiative when you spring it on your staff and they are hearing it for the first time. Further, culture is too personal; it comes from the heart. So instructing everyone on what is and/or should be is an approach that is destined to fail. The answer to finding out how to identify the culture that will provide an environment where the employees and the company wins is simple. Ask them.”

Align business operations to support your company culture goals 

Your ambitions to rebuild company culture can’t succeed if your organisation is requiring behaviours that work against your aims.

Chances are good your organisation has changed in innumerable ways, and you may be playing catch-up as you endeavor to re-establish the culture. Along the way, you may find you need to make adjustments to core operations to support the cultural change you’ve decided is necessary for the future of the business.

“Align service delivery with your current staff levels, and commit to business that your current levels of staff can serve, and serve well,” Todd Brook, chief solutions officer for Engagement Multiplier, advises. “Consider focusing on your best clients, and taking the opportunity to jettison those that cost more to satisfy and thus produce tighter margins. Sometimes the benefit is greater by focusing on your key clients, both from a service perspective, and the health of your company culture.”

Another area in which alignment is critical is in terms of measurement. If your goals for the future include creating an environment that rewards and encourages innovation and self-starting, ensuring line managers are measuring outputs and outcomes, rather than inputs, is a crucial first step.

Misalignment creates frustration and destroys trust, and will hamper the evolution of the cultural change you envision.

Healthy workplace culture is important for a host of reasons: it imparts a degree of predictability for employees, guides behaviour and decision-making, and creates the foundation for the exchange of ideas that lead to business improvement and innovation.

As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without the right cultural attributes in place, even the most elegant strategy to rebuild company culture will fail.