6 Company Culture Traits to Develop in your Organization Today

Recent studies show less than half of the US workers report being happy at work and only 30% feel ‘inspired or engaged.’

Unmotivated and uninspired workers fail to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their role and spend their days eagerly awaiting the moment when they can finally go home.

This level of disengagement poses a severe threat to the culture of an organization and ultimately the bottom line.

In this guide, you’ll discover how company culture affects employee morale and how employees, in turn, change company culture.  Using the culture cycle as a model, we’ll explore several positive culture traits and provide actionable ways to implement them in your organization. The six culture traits are:

  • Meaning and Purpose
  • Creative Confidence
  • Appreciation
  • Balance
  • Collective Voice
  • Empathy

Each of these culture types has the power to influence your unmotivated employees’ attitudes and work ethic. You don’t have to develop them all to see an impact. Applying even a single trait can help reshape your current culture and boost engagement.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be in a position to evaluate which ones align with your organizational values. You’ll also know how to get started implementing it or at least, discussing doing so with other stakeholders.

Culture Matters

2015 Duke University survey of 1400 CEOs and CFOs found almost unanimous appreciation for the role of culture in business.

More than 90 percent of executives said culture is important at their firms, and 78 percent said culture is among the top five things that make their company valuable.

Executives recognize that culture drives profitability, growth rates, and employee behavior. 92% of surveyed executives believe improving corporate culture would increase the value of the company.

Despite having a profound effect on organizations, culture remains an elusive concept. Only 15% of CEOs admit to having the culture they desire.

We intuitively grasp the importance of culture despite having a limited understanding of how it works. This varied understanding is evident in the number of definitions that exist online.

Entrepreneur, for example, calls it ‘a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals, and myths all companies develop over time.’

Forbes calls it an ‘emotional energizer.

New York Times, contributor and business coach, Josh Patrick defines culture as:

‘[…] what you value, what is important for you and your company.’

These various definitions capture the essence of corporate culture  a foundation for creating a work environment that cultivates a good climate to nurture motivation, dedication, and involvement. However, they fail to explain how corporate culture works.

Culture isn’t static. As such, we cannot define it without considering internal dynamics that shape its nature.

Stanford professors, Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner,  show that culture acts as a feedback loop in which its crucial elements interact, stimulating responses from one another.

(image source)

 

 

These elements, as the above model illustrates, include:

  • The self (our thoughts, feelings, and actions)
  • Practices that stem from who we are, the self
  • Institutions that allow or discourage certain practices (i.e., law, media, thought leaders, etc.,)
  • Foundational ideas (i.e., vision, values, ethics, etc.)

Each of these elements affects the rest, creating the feedback loop that forms a particular culture. Our beliefs shape our practices, which in turn, are controlled by institutions that are governed by foundational ideas.

In a typical organization, such feedback loop would include employees (the self), whose unique personalities, backgrounds and views shape how they interact with one another, along with their attitudes towards work (practices.)

The organization (institution), by encouraging or preventing certain practices – you’ll learn some of them later in this guide – can affect employees’ behavior, attitudes, and performance.

Everything the organization institutes, however, is governed by the management’s vision for the workplace and their core values (foundational ideas.) Employees also possess certain ideas about core values and expectations of their work shape their self and their actions. Feedback between employees and the organization forms corporate culture.

In his book, The Culture Cycle: How to Shape the Unseen Force that Transforms Performance, Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus, James L. Heskett shared a great example of how culture directly affects the bottom line:

‘We know, for example, that engaged managers and employees are much more likely to remain in an organization, leading directly to fewer hires from outside the organization. This, in turn, results in lower wage costs for talent; lower recruiting, hiring, and training costs; and higher productivity (fewer lost sales and higher sales per employee). Higher employee continuity leads to better customer relationships that contribute to greater customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, and enhanced sales.” (source)

According to professor James Heskett, culture accounts for 20% – 30% of the difference in performance between companies with a strong culture and those without. Strong company cultures create pride, cohesiveness, and motivation. At the most basic level, they create the conditions for happiness, which turns out to be hugely profitable.

Happiness is closely tied to increases in productivity, creativity, and growth as noted below:

To create an environment that bolsters happiness and engagement, organizations need to shape and optimize their culture continuously.

 

6 Traits that Shape Corporate Culture

 

Meaning and Purpose

During his 1962 visit to the NASA Space Center, as the story goes, President Kennedy saw a man carrying a broom and a bucket. He asked the man what he did there. To his amazement, the man, a janitor, proudly replied, ‘Sir, I help put a man on the moon.

Perhaps only anecdotal, the story perfectly illustrates the power of purpose in the workplace. Many employees seek meaning in their work beyond money. They want to make a difference and see their contributions matter. Many also need to feel they are a part of something larger than themselves.

This desire for purpose and meaning is so strong, that they’re willing to move jobs until they find it, especially millennials.  A shared vision within an organization, inspires greater motivation, the desire to improve continuously.

As Jacob Morgan, author of ‘The Future of Work,’ put it:

‘I believe that the organization needs to help employees connect what they are doing to the impact they are having in a way that helps them see how they are changing the organization, the community and the world.’

Workforce Purpose Index report illustrates the profound effect purpose has on an organization. The report uncovered that 58% of companies with a clearly articulated mission, achieved +10% growth over the last three years. And 85% of organizations with clear purpose achieved overall growth.

What’s more:

  • 73% of purpose-oriented employees love their jobs.
  • And 39% of them are likely to continue working with an organization for more than three years
  • Employees in organizations with clearly defined purpose are 47% more likely to promote the company externally without any incentive.

Purpose and meaning make people proud of the work they do, regardless of their job title. It fosters a workplace in which people thrive and want to excel in what they do because they understand the impact they’re making.

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
Behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, explains the power of purpose at work. [Video]

An institution to inspire and educate:
GameChangers is a network of purpose-driven companies which optimize for purpose rather than profit. It’s a good starting place for individuals and organizations looking to survey the business landscape.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of purpose:

  1. Incorporate scheduled company or team updates that show progress toward a shared goal or North Star Metric. One great way to do this is to read client or user reviews during all-hands meetings to remind your team of the people they serve and the value they provide.
  2. Make your vision and company core values visible. This might seem obvious, but unless your company purpose is easily accessible by everyone, then it can be ignored. Publishing and sharing a company culture deck is a meaningful first step towards uniting you people around a cause.
  3. Encourage your teams to define their own mission statement and help them relate it to the company vision. Follow the example of Buffer and survey your team members to identify values and shared goals that already exist.

 

Creative Confidence

Building creative culture and teams at work is essential to deliver difference and stay ahead of the curve.’ – David Kelley, Creative Confidence.

Traditionally,  organizations associated creativity with highly-specific roles or tasks certain people performed.

Designers or copywriters were creative. It was their job to come up with innovative ideas and solutions, albeit within the limits of their roles. However, the same didn’t apply to other employees. Their role wasn’t to innovate but focus on completing their tasks as fast and efficiently as possible.

Such division is now long gone.

Today, the term creativity encompasses everything that helps an organization solve problems, express and explore new ideas.

Many organizations have already recognized the positive benefit of fostering creativity in the workplace – out of the box thinking, increased productivity and efficiency, and greater dedication to work.

Each quarter, Digital Air Strike, for example – a social media and reputation service – gathers employees from different departments together to come up with new ideas to help make the company better for clients and staff alike.

Organizations like HireVue, Bonobos and many others, break down the barriers between employees and leadership, allowing each team member to introduce ideas that could propel the business forward.

Many, however, still refrain from allowing a creative thought to flourish.

According to data from Adobe, only 1 in 4 people believe they are living up to their full creative potential.

True, competitive markets force companies and management to put more pressure on production rather than creativity. It, therefore, comes as no surprise, as Adobe’s data shows, that 32% of employees don’t feel comfortable thinking creatively in the workplace or career.

Here’s how to change that and start building the culture of creativity in the workplace:

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
David Kelley: How to Build Your Creative Confidence [Video]

An institution to inspire and educate:
The Stanford Design School maintains a collection of online resources to help others learn design thinking and build creative habits.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of creative confidence:

  1. Stock your office with crafting supplies and encourage people to use them. Quite often, our computer acts as a barrier or filter for creativity. Providing a more intuitive and frictionless outlet can increase the quantity and quality of ideas generated.
  2. Share something ugly. Lead by example and share an idea in a visual way during a meeting. This differentiates visual expression as a medium for communication rather than an end product and can help foster a comfortable environment for others to share.
  3. Devote time to ‘frame-storm’  the problem before brainstorming solutions. A well-framed problem can spark a creative set of solutions.

 

Appreciation

Recognition, together with pride and satisfaction from work, form the key emotional drivers that ignite employee engagement and commitment.

This, in turn, helps inspire employees to care about their work beyond personal objectives – a paycheck, for example – and commit themselves to help an organization achieve its goals, often going beyond their job descriptions.

But given all this, why is employee recognition so scarce? Why, as the last year’s GloboForce research, ‘Bringing More Humanity to Recognition, Performance, and Life at Work,’ revealed, 45% of US workers claim they haven’t been recognized in the last six months, and 16% have never received any praise at all?

After all, 69% of them openly admit that they would work harder if they were more appreciated.

Common reasons for lack of appreciation programs include no time or knowledge to learn and implement various available recognition programs and rewards, and narrow thinking about rewards employees would find rewarding.

At the same time, a wealth of research proves that even a simple sign of appreciation, a thank you note posted on the company’s intranet, could have a profound effect on person’s attitude towards work.

Companies with a strong culture of appreciation enjoy higher productivity, lower absenteeism and lower turnover.

Incorporating appreciation into your company’s culture, from teaching everyone to offer a simple ‘thank you‘ to developing a fully-fledged recognition program, builds a positive, inspiring, and productive climate in which employees can grow and dedicate themselves to their work, confident that their efforts do not go unnoticed.

But how do you get people to express gratitude and appreciate their colleagues more in the workplace?

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
Mike Robbins: The Power of Appreciation [Video]

An institution to inspire and educate:
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation maintains an active blog centered on spreading appreciation and happiness in communities and organizations. It’s an excellent source for ideas and examples.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of appreciation:

  1. Accept graciously. An essential and often overlooked element of the appreciation equation occurs on the receiving end. Instead of minimizing achievements, or staking a case for why you are not worthy of another person’s freely given appreciation, take compliments with the simplest form of gratitude, a “thank you.” Studies have found that serotonin levels increase for both the compliment giver and the receiver when a compliment is graciously accepted.
  2. Dedicate resources for a formal employee recognition program. We’re strong advocates for experiential rewards as an employee engagement tool, but there isn’t a one size fits all solution.
  3. Get Mindful.  In this day and age, we are often too preoccupied to stop and reflect on who and what we appreciate and why. Taking the time to observe and be an active participant in the interactions around is critical. Many innovative companies now offer a mindfulness stipend or access to mindfulness training through applications, like Whil or Headspace.

 

Time Awareness

‘Companies spend their employees’ time and attention as if there were an infinite supply of both. As if they cost nothing. Yet workers’ time and attention are the most precious resources we have.’ – Jason Fried

Undoubtedly, time is any company’s most precious resource. After all, every organization has only a limited number of hours in a day to push all its projects forward.

Sadly, time is also what they squander the most.

Although it might seem a too extreme example, this data, published in the Harvard Business Review illustrates well how a single weekly executive committee meeting could cost a company 300,000 hours in a year.

Many similar examples abound. Atlassian reports that unnecessary meetings cost US businesses $37 billion in salary expenses. Overall, as the company reports, less than 60% of the time is spent productively. Meetings, constant interruptions, and unnecessary communications consume the rest.

Other research studies confirm that managers feel overwhelmed by their meetings. Moreover, the average length and frequency of meetings rose from less than 10 hours a week in 1960 to 23 hours today.

Finally, a survey by Igloo Software revealed the employees’ attitudes towards meetings, with respondents considering as many as 76% of meetings unnecessary.

Work interruptions, reduced employee interaction and broken workflow that follow mismanaging employees time affect every single aspect of a company.

After all, it’s not just the meeting attendees that cannot focus on their work but anyone else in the organization that relies on their input to progress with their projects.

Decisions, other than what’s being discussed at a meeting, get pushed further in the agenda, often also blocking employees from continuing with their work.

In fact, too many meetings are the key reason for employees and senior staff not completing their projects on time.

 

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
Yes, You Only Get 40 Hours of Your Employees’ Time. Here’s How to Best Use It [Article]

An institution to inspire and educate:
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) maintains an active blog covering work-life balance. Many of the articles provide useful perspectives on time management and tactics for using time more efficiently.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of time awareness:

  1. Complete a time audit to identify where you aren’t effectively utilizing time at work. Consciousness is a crucial step in making changes.
  2. Provide a transparent way to view the current time zones of team members working outside of the office. More and more employees are working remotely making it difficult to track and respect time differences. A tool like TimeZone.io
  3. Assign a monetary value to time to highlight the costs (and ROI) of meetings and projects.

 

Collective Voice

The modern buying process has changed, shifting the power of choice and influencing decisions to customers, rather than the sales team. The same happened with hiring.

Today’s customers and candidates alike conduct extensive research before settling on a potential vendor or employer.

They scout online sources to find out more about it, its products and people. Many download and review the company’s marketing literature. Others monitor it on social media. And in the case of job seekers, use channels like Glassdoor to learn more about its culture.

In turn, they connect with the appropriate department – sales or HR – only if they’ve conclusively decided that this is the organization they want to engage with.

As a result, every company’s touchpoint and the employee has become a crucial part of the marketing and sales process today.

In other words, your entire workforce must become advocates for the brand. And this involves non-front-line employees too.

To meet this new demand, an organization needs to empower its people with a collective voice – the understanding how their actions and input affects the bottom line and empower them to make decisions that could help build a positive image of the brand.

One example illustrating the power of collective voice is a support engineer skipping steps in the otherwise preset process to aid a distraught customer. She helps them resolve the issue first, and only then, goes back to collect other details as the process normally dictates.

Had she followed the process, most likely she would only aggravate the person more. But providing a solution first has the opposite effect and builds a positive image of a brand.

This, however, can only happen if employees understand their influence and have the power to make decisions as to what course of action to take.

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
Employee voice: why is it important to sustainable success? [Article]

An institution to inspire and educate:
Airbnb: The success of the platform is defined by trust which is defined by the collective voice of travelers and hosts. Various Airbnb teams also maintain blogs to highlight their contributions to the company’s success, like the Design Blog Community Blog, and Engineering blog.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of collective voice:

  1. Dedicate office space for a graffiti wall or community blackboard where employees can share thoughts and pose questions to the community.
  2. Invest in an employee advocacy platform, which centralizes company updates and makes it easier for your employees to share company news of which they are proud.
  3. Organize team member takeovers on social accounts, so employees can share an authentic perspective of their role. Read how Hilton Hotels launched a successful Instagram takeover program.

 

Empathy

‘If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.’ – Charles Duhigg

At work, just like almost everywhere else, we’re surrounded by other people. And it’s the collection of all those unique personalities, backgrounds and ideas everyone brings to the table that makes up a workplace what it is.

But to successfully work together, we need to learn to see issues and challenges people around us face through their eyes too.

In other words, to create a healthy and inspiring workplace, an organization must embed empathy – the ability to share and understand the emotions of others – into its culture.

In a healthy corporate culture, employees communicate and respond respectfully, considering the other person’s emotions. This, in turn, builds an environment that makes everyone feel safe, valued and cared about.

And its effect extends far beyond interpersonal relations.

Empathy boosts productivity. People typically work harder when they understand how what they do benefits others. Simply knowing how our output affects another person’s work, and approaching it with empathy, makes us more devoted to the task at hand.

Empathy fuels cooperation and boosts teamwork. Studies such as Google’s Project Aristotle confirmed that teams in which members respect each other are, in turn, more understanding towards one another and their ideas. As a result, they perform considerably better than teams with a formal structure governed by each member’s desire to outdo the others.

Empathy affects customer service. Placing oneself in the customer’s shoes helps employees understand and solve their problems faster, and in a more human way.

Finally, empathy helps to create better products and solutions.  Empathy can also help identify customers’ real problems and design solutions that alleviate those.

The good news? Empathy is a skill that can be learned, honed, and built.

One piece of media to share that highlights the trait:
Why Genuine Empathy is Good for Business [Article]

An institution to inspire and educate:
While no longer updated, the Empathy Index documents the most and least empathetic organizations.

Three tools and practices to start developing a culture of empathy:

  1. Encourage your leadership team and employees to take an hour to reflect on a handful of questions.  Do I know what the people on my team are afraid of? Do I know what they are talking about when I am not in the room? Do people pick up on my moods, and do I pick up on theirs? Do my meetings allow for people to discuss how they feel about things? More here
  2. Incorporate frequent check-ins where employees can express their current mood or emotional state. This can be shared during team meetings or as a scheduled notification in Slack or Email. Read how one design agency used this tactic to combat feelings of isolation within a fully remote team.
  3. Provide time and resources for managers to lead user empathy workshops.

 

Closing Thoughts

The effect of culture on an organization is irrefutable. It boosts creativity, inspires cooperation and sparks dedication and involvement.

But a strong culture must be built, and then repeatedly reshaped and maintained. Otherwise, over time, it slowly loses its impact and wanes.

That’s the role of corporate culture traits – elements inherent to it that help continuously maintain and nurture a strong culture in the workplace.

And although those traits are many, six form the core of any culture:

  • Meaning and Purpose
  • Creative Confidence
  • Appreciation
  • Balance
  • Collective Voice
  • Empathy

Naturally, to thrive, your culture doesn’t need all of them. But it requires at least one to create a workplace where employees love their jobs and give it their absolute best.