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How to Build a Strong Organizational Culture

BY -

Alicia Castro

June 15, 2020

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Throughout time, global cultures have shifted, splintered, uprisen, and altered in myriad ways to reflect the values of their people. From a business perspective, how does this translate to the workplace? Organizational culture is a system of shared values that can shape employees’ performance, behavior, and beliefs.

However, it’s not a stale system. We like how leadership author Abdi Osman Jama put it: “An organization is a living culture that can adapt to the reality as fast as possible.” Over time, a company and its culture can — and should — constantly learn and develop alongside its members.

One of the primary reasons that culture should evolve is to keep employees engaged in their work. However, the percentage of "engaged" workers — those who are highly involved, enthusiastic, and committed to their workplace — is just 35 percent, according to a 2019 Gallop study.

Increasingly, human resources is playing an important role in engaging employees in order to nurture company culture. Many executives already see the value. According to an article in SHRM, leaders from around the world say that enhancing employee engagement is one of their top five global business strategies.

Employee engagement culture

Company leaders agree that engaging employees is a business priority.

Types of organizational culture

Engaging employees hasn’t always been a top concern among executives. It was only in the early 1980s that the concept of culture began gaining traction in the world of work. Organizational scientists started realizing that understanding and defining company values — those previously unnamed assumptions, expectations, and collective memories — helped create cohesion and momentum.

In this era two prominent organizational scientists, Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, developed four types of organizational culture: Clan, Adhocracy, Market, and Hierarchy.

  • Clan cultures operate like families through nurturing mentorship and collaboration.
  • Adhocracy cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial. Employees are risk-taking innovators who value growth and trendsetting.
  • Market cultures are results oriented. People focus on competition and measurable achievement.
  • Hierarchy cultures are formalized and focused on long-term goals. Employees value structure, stability, and efficiency.
Quinn Culture Types

A company’s culture reflects its values and leadership style.

Companies still rely on this framework to develop their unique corporate culture. It’s worth noting that the right culture for any given organization will be the one that fits its direction and strategy for confronting issues and challenges over time. Some organizations favor frequent and fast change, while others prefer incremental development.

HR teams need to remember that employee engagement isn’t set in stone — it can alter over time. For example, take Gallup’s decades-long organizational studies. Of hundreds of companies, many have improved employee engagement considerably over time; some have gone from less than 20 percent engagement to more than 70 percent. These organizations have homed in on creating “high development cultures” in which employees have the opportunities to develop their strengths and purpose into a career.

Developing organizational culture

To begin, a company’s leaders should ask their employees, customers, board members, and other key stakeholders their perspectives on two sets of values: the company’s current core values and its aspirational values. Do they encourage mentorship? Are they results oriented? Do they work in quick sprints? Do they desire more or less of anything in particular? After gathering information, executives can coalesce this information into a starting point for shared values.

Following this process, it’s important that leaders initiate the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors they want to see across the organization. In this way, managers switch from a culture of “boss” to “coach” as they lead by example.

To help support a strong ongoing culture, HR needs to step up, too, in shaping and communicating the organization’s values and desired behavior. This can be accomplished by acquiring compatible new hires, talking about the company culture with current employees, and reinforcing behavior through peer-to-peer recognition that ties back to values. HR can keep an eye on progress by using tools to gather input throughout the employee lifecycle.

CultureIQ People Data Base Strategy

Tools like CultureIQ, above, provide organizations with data-based, people-driven insights that link culture to strategy.

Turning culture into an asset

While organizational change is constant, your company can take continual steps toward defining its purpose and brand — that is, why it exists and how it wants to be known. Over time, aligning your team members with your workplace culture will become a competitive advantage.  Here’s how to turn your organization’s culture into an asset.

  1. Hire for cultural fit.

A strong culture fit can yield greater job satisfaction, longer tenure, and improved performance. To show candidates what you’re all about, integrate your culture into your employer brand messaging, job content, and interview processes.

To reach external talent, use career sites and social channels to broadcast your organizational culture. Prospects want a closer look at the day-to-day life at the company. Beyond job listings, your career page should highlight your company values and current employees through in-depth and specific stories. Telling job seekers about your company culture helps ensure that those who apply are opting in to the shared values and behavior.

Another important way to bolster organizational culture is by hiring from within. HR can encourage employees to pursue opportunities by providing internal mobility tools that teach them about career opportunities and allow them to express their interest in different roles.

The last point here is to stay operationally focused. Just like when managing your assets via a CMMS, managing your people requires the right tools and process.

  1. Communicate with your workforce.

Employees who feel included in decision-making are more motivated and engaged. According to an article in Forbes, a Tinypulse survey found transparency is the top factor contributing to employee happiness. You can utilize employee engagement software to help develop a culture of trust and inclusion.

Tiny Pulse Feedback Tool

Feedback tools like TINYpulse, above, encourage the whole team to provide input.

  1. Prioritize belonging.

Feelings of safety and rapport can improve communication, collaboration, and alignment. It’s important to keep in mind that subcultures will likely develop among different departments and groups of people. Diversity should be championed and woven into a company’s overarching culture.

Benefits of a strong organizational culture

Once you’ve defined your culture and hired people who align with your values, you can encourage them to follow their instincts and get involved with their colleagues. Having a strong organizational culture is good for employees, too. It allows them to:

  • Understand how to respond to challenging situations as they arise.
  • Believe that their response is correct.
  • Trust they will be rewarded for exhibiting the organization's values.

In essence, developing company-wide goals and approaches gives employees a master plan. With this information, they have the space to do three very important things: perform better, be more autonomous, and remain loyal to your organization.

Remember, you don’t need to do the work alone. Be sure to check out our lineup of the best employee engagement software to make sure your culture keeps you sticking together — and evolving — into the future. 

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